Musings: Shaking the Foundation—Cheater’s & Repeaters & Manti Te’o
January 22, 2013

Abby Leafe and I, co-chairs of the Philadelphia Chapter of the QRCA, recently reported some sobering findings of our initial research on research. Our small study was just in the Philadelphia market so perhaps it’s not indicative of the market at large. But we discovered a surprising number of “Cheaters & Repeaters”—consumers who found their way into qualitative market research activities like focus groups, in depth interviews and mock juries. We learned a lot about how they get into studies by tweaking the truth (“sometimes I forget I have children.”)  And we learned about their motivations—money of course is a big factor, but having their voice and ideas heard and being in the know about new things were also big motivators to “tweaking the truth” in order to be selected for a study. When they get into a research event that they shouldn’t have been recruited for they have strategies to deal with it—stay quiet and just agree with what others say. The more adventurous respondents prepare so that they will be informed on the topic and be able to contribute.

Abby and I conducted our research by telephone and video chat. Through careful listening and observation (those in video interviews) we felt we could get a good sense of how honest our respondents were to our queries.

Now the news this week is filled with this crazy story of star football player Manti Teo’s, Internet romance with a woman, who it turns out, didn’t exist! It’s one of those stories that makes us shake our heads in disbelief, and I think it’s another sobering reminder of potential pitfalls of market research studies conducted exclusively on line. While many of my colleagues appreciate the benefits of this mode of research, personally, I’ve always been a bit wary. Call me “Old School,” but I prefer to “see the whites of their eyes” and get the fuller meaning behind words that one can only do in a face-to-face situation. When I have conducted online research it’s been part of a hybrid study in which in-person work was also incorporated.

As Abby and I have started to share our findings with others in the qualitative market research community we’re developing a list of strategies and ideas to help us be smarter in our work and minimize the presence of the Cheaters & Repeaters.  We plan to continue our research and brainstorming and share our findings and ideas.

But for the meantime, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder about what is represented as “truth” and “reality” In this digital age.

I welcome your comments!

Laurie Tema-Lyn

Practical Imagination Enterprises

laurie@practical-imagination.com