I recently joined the odd 400 people or so who agreed to watch a sit-com and then report back to Audience Studies, Inc. I was wary when I took the initial call but agreed, mostly because, as I told the young man on the phone, "You can always get my address out of the phone book."
(That poor young man--I don't think his heart was in the call; when I questioned him as to Audience Studies, Inc.'s resume, he said, in a very embarrassed voice, "I can give you a 1-800 number to call." The young man knew, as I discovered, that Audience Studies, Inc. only communicates what agrees with its "story." )
So, Audience Studies, Inc. sent me a DVD as well as two booklets with pictures of products. And I immediately figured out that Audience Studies, Inc. wasn't interested in learning about my reaction to the sit-com; it was doing product research.
Now, I have no trouble with product research. If Audience Studies, Inc. had called me up and said, "We're going to send you a failed CBS pilot from 2005 that we purchased for a nominal fee as well as a bunch of ads and commercials and frankly, what we really want to know about is your reactions to the ads and commercials," I would have said, "Oh, sure, that's sounds interesting. Go ahead." I like commercials.
What is bizarre about this whole thing is how completely Audience Studies, Inc. has created a fake story in order to try to get (supposedly) unprejudiced reactions to products. First of all, the company goes to the trouble to obtain the sitcom (why it doesn't simply create its own is beyond me--the episode was so bad, at first I thought it was a basement production, which kind of impressed me. But the episode I was sent, which I turned off five minutes in because that's what I really do with bad sitcoms, was from "The Rocky LaPorte Show." Don't blame Rocky. It was the dialog and plot that stank.)
Secondly, the booklets of products are printed as "Prize Booklets" complete with "Prize Entry Forms" that you are supposed to fill out (multiple choice fashion) and just coincidentally keep by the phone for when Audience Studies, Inc. calls.
Thirdly, the "Program Evaluation" is not in any way designed to solicit survey responses. It contains questions like "Which character did you like best?" "What parts of the show or the idea should be changed or updated?" No survey company of this type would ask such open-ended questions!
I can't figure out whether Audience Studies, Inc. honestly believes that people won't see through this charade or whether people honestly don't see through it. All the bloggers I read had seen through it, but then bloggers already show a degree of media awareness and saavy. (Which is why they are susceptible to viewing the sitcom in the first place.)
Again, the irony is that I'm a big fan of market research, and I would have helped a request in that area. But I draw the line at so much icky snake-oil salesman patter. Either cough up the dough for a non-failed pilot, people, or come up with a better schtick.