Market Research Mambo: Secrets of a Focus Group Aficionado
"If you're really strapped for cash, you can sell your blood plasma," Buster Ringling says. "You can become an extra, but $60 for eight hours' worth of work? You get treated literally like cattle. It wasn't for me."
Buster Ringling isn't his real name -- but this really is his silhouette
When Ringling, a 26-year-old comedian/actor/juggler from Queens, New York, came out West in 2007, a friend who had been here a few months detailed the secrets of Hollywood survival: the bars with all-day happy hours, the restaurants with $3 sushi lunch specials. And then he mentioned the market research firms -- and that they'd pay you $150 an hour to describe how Spike TV and Budweiser would beat up Apple and Hoegaarden if they met at a party.
It was there Ringling found his calling.
In a never-ending quest for extra cash, Ringling has perfected his method of "booking" focus groups: listening for dropped clues about what the researchers are looking for and stretching the truth to become the ideal candidate for any situation.
"I enjoy an occasional soda, but it's not my poison," he explains. But when market research firms call up asking about soda, "I love all sodas. It's pretty much all I drink."
He has professed daily usage of everything from a garage-door opener (he lives in an apartment) to a brand-new car (his is used), although he draws the line at the alien topics of gaming and sports.
Los Angeles-based companies like Adept Consumer Testing, Trotta Associates and Facts 'n Figures Inc. post 30-page surveys on their websites, asking potential participants to fill out demographic details and join the mailing list that announces upcoming groups. You're technically allowed to participate in only one focus group every six months, but Ringling has developed a foolproof response to the inevitable "When was your last?" query: "Uhhh, I don't know, maybe it was, like, almost a year ago now, I guess?"