Kate's Battles Against Annoying Companies (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Stamps.com, Audience Studies, Inc. Updated)

Generally speaking, I'm a fan of Amazon. Any company that  makes books available, cheap, and easy to access is a boon to society.

Except when the company ticks me off.

Recently, a print book I was planning to buy in the near future (I still read them!) changed status, becoming available *only* to Amazon Prime members. I don't mean that it was being offered cheaper to Prime members, which I don't mind (hey, it's a choice!). And I don't mean that only the new edition was available to Prime members; customers could still purchase used editions.

I mean that a reader like myself couldn't buy the print version of the book at all unless she joined Prime. And although I realize that this may be as much the author's choice as Amazon's, I was ticked!

It's weird enough to run into Amazon Prime when I go to Wholefoods to buy my expensive pastries (after I've been to Walmart to pick up my cheap Chinese frozen dinners). But I recognize that there's no point in Amazon and Wholefoods joining forces and not trying to capitalize on their love affair. Along the same lines, my buying capacities are limited only by my personal income and what I'm willing to pay for shipping. Let's face it: in the Middle Ages, hardly anybody had books (or could read).

In other words, I don't think Amazon owes me anything. Nor do I think that Amazon is stealing my rights by not offering me everything I want for $2, free shipping.

Nor do I believe that Amazon is only supposed to sell me cheap books, not care about my food selections or try to force Prime down my gullet. If Amazon wants to act like a used car salesperson...

But. Still. I was totally annoyed. I didn't want to blame the author because, you know, I like her books.

But I did decide to make my displeasure known. Yes, yes, I realize that I am an infinitesimal flea on the shores of Amazon's domain. But hey! I'm a consumer!!

So I started looking up print-books-to-buy-in-the-future from my Amazon cart on Barnes & Noble plus AbeBooks plus Ebay. And what do you know: I found quite a number, including editions of the book that Amazon will only sell to its la-di-day Prime members (no, I don't want to join; I hate being forced to join shopper clubs).

So far. So good.

Except then I started looking up eBooks.

Oh, my.

My angry attitude at Amazon becalmed itself within an hour. Kindle might be annoying and put up all kinds of barriers, but Amazon's weirdness over eBooks is NOTHING compared to Barnes & Nobles's weirdness.

Apparently, BN did away with its Nook for PC months ago. I couldn't download the book I bought in order to convert it (which I felt I had the right to do--I bought it). Since I have no intention of buying a Nook thingy (I didn't even buy my Kindle; it was a gift), Barnes & Noble just lost a potential customer for its eBooks.

Which strikes me re: business practices as just stupid.

I then went to Kobo, but I got so  irritated with Kobo's failure to recognize my email (while sending welcome announcements to that email), I gave up and shut down the account.

Where did I finally get the eBook I wanted?

Google Play.

I then spent another hour figuring out how to convert it. It was not fun.

But I succeeded! Not only did I succeed, I got Kindle for PC for recognize it, which means that when I transferred it to my Kindle, it came up beautifully--cover, proper format, and all.

I spent $12 on a $3 book to achieve this. Was it worth it?

You bet it was! 

Okay, okay, so Google is also planning to take over the universe. But hey, at least Amazon didn't win. And next time, maybe Google won't win. The point is, I didn't have to join Prime. Nah nah nah. (And I put capitalism to work since, uh, yes, I did buy a number of cheap print books during my "research.")

* * *

Dealing with scammers . . .
This is a repost from 2007, updated to address Stamps.com.

It's embarrassing to admit, "Hey, I was snookered," but I figure doing so may do someone out there some good.

I am fairly savvy when it comes to buying things online (truly!). I don't give my credit card to just anyone; I check for hidden costs before I sign up for anything; and I stick to credible websites.

I hate to admit: I fell for Stamps.com mostly because I associated it directly with USPS. I like the United States Post Office. Over the years, I have found it a reliable handler of my mail.

Two months ago, I received an offer from Stamps.com to get "free" stamps. I went online and printed them. I ended up printing more, which involved entering my debit card information at the same time that I set up a profile.

Unknown to me, I was then also automatically signed up on A Plan.

I must emphasize: this was ENTIRELY unknown to me. (1) I never sign up for "Free 30-day" offers that end with me being charged a monthly fee; nope, not even Amazon Prime. I either sign up for something or I don't.

(2) The plan I was automatically assigned to involved spending $16/month. I don't spend $16 on stamps in an entire year. I would never have agreed to such a silly waste of money.

So a month later, a charge from Stamps.com showed up in my bank account. I was totally surprised and not a little freaked out. What on earth did I check or not check that would let this happen?

I signed in to Stamps.com, and there it was: me on a plan I didn't even know the name of, being charged $16/month.

I set about cancelling my account immediately, but when I tried to delete my card information, the system wouldn't let me "for verification purposes." There were no pending charges (at the time); I had not used the site since my initial show of interest.

Keep in mind, every single billing/commercial online system I use, including Amazon and Central Maine Power, lets me delete my checking account/credit-debit card information whenever I wish. But Stamps.com wouldn't.

I called. Instead of an agent handling my call, or even locating my account, I was told off-hand that I would have to be transferred to "Tech." I'm not kidding. According to the person on the phone, only some computer programmers were able to remove my card information from an account that I was cancelling. Because, you know, it's just so hard to do something that every single credible commercial website allows its consumers to do themselves

So I cancelled the account and then the card.

I have since learned a few things: (1) a number of small businesses use Stamps.com; (2) Stamps.com offers services that other agencies now offer cheaper or for free; (3) I'm not the first person to be dismayed by Stamps.com's reluctance/claimed inability to make cancelling an account easy--in fact, a small business owner on Consumer Affairs.com states that even after he cancelled his account through Stamps.com, he continued to get billed until he stopped things at his end, through his bank (which reminds me of the Friends' episode where Chandler hollers, "We want to quit the bank!").

My theory: Stamps.com decided to move beyond small businesses to individual consumers but made zero effort to adjust its website for people who don't actually spend $16/month on postage.

So it's not a scam; it is sleazy. 

Note the ambiguous wording: "taking the time to try"
Update: Here's the embarrassing part--apparently, I signed up for the plan when I clicked on the Terms & Conditions (that nobody ever reads). So I would lose my case in a court of law.

But not ethically. 

In all of my subsequent correspondence with Stamps.com (basically an email and a package of labels, which I believed were related to an earlier complaint), the company never told me directly, "Hey, you signed up for this plan!" "Hey, welcome to the plan!" "Hey, we're going to start billing you for this plan!"

I can think of no single online company that I do business with--companies that are constantly offering special deals and plans--that behaves in this way.

What doubly astonishes me is that while Stamps.com used small print to charge me for a service I don't use, it is oh-so-innocently shocked when I react as if it has hidden fees and nasty extra billing items lurking in its small-print. So the company snookered me like a good scammer into paying for its plan but doesn't want me to behave as if that is exactly what it did. (Where's a smug grifter when you expect one?)

When Walmart failed to inform me that I couldn't easily return an item bought online to the physical store or through its website, it fell over backwards to reimburse me for postage. That's how a good company behaves. (And I still shop there.)

In the "misery loves company" category, I have discovered that consumer reviewers--the kind of people who read Terms & Conditions--agree with me: it is very, very difficult to figure out the hidden fees and conditions on Stamps.com.

So beware!

Below is the previous time I was snookered by a less than an upfront business.

* * *

In writing this post, I am joining several bloggers who have posted about Audience Studies, Inc. Thanks to said bloggers for helping me track down the information posted here!

I recently joined the odd 400 people or so who agreed to watch a sitcom 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 sitcom; 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. created a fake story in order to try to get (supposedly) unprejudiced reactions to products. First of all, the company went to the trouble to obtain the sitcom (why it didn'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.)

Second, the booklets of products were printed as "Prize Booklets" complete with "Prize Entry Forms" that I was supposed to fill out (multiple choice fashion) and just coincidentally keep by the phone for when Audience Studies, Inc. called.

Third, the "Program Evaluation" was not in any way designed to solicit survey responses. It contained 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 asks 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 savvy. (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 shtick.

Note: A year or so after I did Audience Studies, Inc., I warily agreed to track my viewing--or non-viewing--habits for a week for Nielsen. The difference in professionalism was startling! I reference this experience in the comments.


Anonymous said...

Amen to that! I watched the 30 minute Rocky LaPorte Show and then was on the phone 40 minutes before I had to abort the interview out of need to feed my family and get on with my life. People should be compensated for their hour of feedback.

Nan said...

Well, they called me and I agreed to watch the disk, which was late and finally arrived by UPS. but they haven't called me.

There were no booklets, just the disk.
I know what you mean about whether there is any use in this data. I like market research too, and i don't mind participating, but often my answers are vague because I really don't know what I think or I really don't care.

And I dont' use brands like Skippy or Jif, I use "natural" stuff, rarely anything not. So unless there answers include none of the above, I won't be much help.

But they haven't called. it's odd.

Anonymous said...

Here's my experience: They sent me the two booklets with about 20 categories of products. I put the untitled mysterious disk into my DVD player, and the @#%^&*! cheap thing wouldn't play. What a fraud!

Anonymous said...

Ditto on all of the above. Can't read DVD, don't use half of the products. Lady, I talked to was insecure and did not know what was on DVD. I did not want porno, etc. It appears that there is no free lunch, just go into a bin for possible drawing. Too, bad they spent so much money on these types of promotions. Oh, and by the way, I also received Rocky LaPorte Show, not much of a variety of viewing pleasure. Plus, they want the disk back, the sweepstakes is over on the 29th of February, not much time to get it back, since today is the 25th, and I won't talk to the rep until 9:00 p.m. on the 26th. How can a Telemarketer keep someone on the line 40 minutes?. Inquiring minds want to know.

Anonymous said...

HA! I sat thru the same stupid DVD last night as 'instructed' etc. I filled out the #1 booklet before watching & #2 booklet after watching. What the booklets have to do with the program I have no idea! The 8+ commercials shown weren't even for any of the products represented in the booklets! Market research? What a total waste of money! No wonder everything costs so much these days! Absolute waste of time! Thanks for the insight on the game this company is playing! Ridiculous! I am suppose to be available between 3-6pm for my 'feedback' call. I will not be on the telephone for 40 minutes that's for sure! As soon as they call I will tell them 'Not interested. Take me off of your list!'

Anonymous said...

My wife got it too. Seems like a lot of Hullabaluu, if you axe me. I did see the big juicy sweep stakes though. It ran from 02-01-2008 to -2 29-2008. She received the pack 0n 03-04-2008. Oh well,probably could not afford the shipping and handling anways.

Anonymous said...

This was a market research scam to get us to reply to the Product Research. It had nothing to do with the DVD Contect whatsoever. We were not screening a pilot show. We were used to get us to stay on the Marketing so that the product survey could happen. Which is none of their business. P.S - I lied about all the demographic collection. Tim W - minneapolis,mn

Lisa said...

I sort of fell for it as well. When my husband and I looked at the package (which reeked of stale cigarette smoke even after spending a few days away from whatever blue-hazed office it came from) and saw all the "prize packages." Sure enough, the questions were all about the commercials and what products I use in my home.

I can understand that they may want to find out what commercials impact on me while my focus is on the show, which is why I went along with the survey.

However, when the questions changed to, "Do you place your child's needs above your own?" I stopped it there.

I can only take so much crooked in my conversation.

Erica said...

It's 2008 we have the internet When my disk wouldn't play I looked up Rocky Laporte and found the video on youtube..... it said Unaird sitcom piolet and I know Rocky Laporte is a comic.

It pisses me off that they get you all excited to see a new unaired pilot but really lets think it through would a televison station send out unaired piolet CDs to every tom dick and harry that said they'd watch them...

What a JIP!

Peace Corps Wallaa said...

I knew it was a product test, but I was curious to see how they would work it. The before and after prize checks were diversions? Were there hidden messages in the show? Sort of interesting.

Stephanie said...

What was the "real" test? Was it the show, the commercials, or the "before and after" selections?

Maybe the test was the test--how long could they keep us on the phone, after watching a lousy show, filling out senseless forms, and answering inane, redundant questions.
Thanks for letting me vent.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever gotten any of the free products?

Donna said...

I watched this 'shitcom' today, and will have my callback tomorrow. I think we all should email every product sponser on the sheets and the imbedded commercials on the cd, and tell them we will never buy their products again because of this scam. sound good?

socKs said...

uch! I did this yesterday - sucker to the "evaluate a new sitcom" part of it and not realizing that it was market research until I saw the "prize packets." My DVD arrived late, so I finished watching it - on my laptop - HA! seconds before they called. Poor guy was very nice, but had a heavy accent so I had to keep asking him to repeat himself. We were on the phone for at least 30 minutes. Never did watch the commercial at the end of DVD, because my kid was watching something else. The show was awful - something I would have watched when I was in Jr. High if it had come on after Golden Girls. Oh well... maybe I'll win some free Brillo pads (or my favorite store brand). My husband blogged about this as well (linked).

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe I got sucked in to this. I thought I was doing something nice. They just wanted me to watch a sit com. All the other bloggers have not much good to say about it. It was, I suppose, dated, since there was no foul language or sex it but I thought it was funny. At any rate, the important thing is that I actually followed all these directions they gave me. I watched it on Monday. I had to work this in as I was busy almost all day. Then on Tuesday they called me between 4&6. Again, I had to come home and wait for a call. What an idiot. So, finally this man who can barely get out a word in English calls me. I ask him to slow down and to repeat things because I can not hear him very well. (No I am not deaf). Almost all the questions were about the ads in the sit com. He says he is doing the best that he can, and I tell him that's not working maybe someone else should talk to me and HE HANGS UP! I have yet to have anyone call me back. Maybe I will report them to the BB. Maybe I will just learn a hard lesson and get on with it. Ask me if I'm pi--ed!(foul language)

Anonymous said...

You are brilliant. Maybe that is what I will do....so devious.

Anonymous said...

I just got this scam in the mail today and had already seen the underlying motives of this "research". The thing I suspected from the entire package would be perhaps some values change in the viewers, but realized that the products didn't match exactly from book to book. I thought that maybe there would be products in the show that would affect the viewers, and perhaps change their appreciation of the products. I guess since the commercials had nothing to do with the products in the booklets (as quoted in earlier blog) then I don't know. I have yet to watch the video...

Anonymous said...

I just received my packet and got a little suspicious when I saw the prize booklet full of products. Thank you to all who posted your experiences. I sure don't have an hour to sit on the phone and discuss my product preferences. Maybe I will let them talk to my one year old instead....he would give them an ear full! Thanks for saving my precious time!

Ann said...

Nan: What you have is the commercials-only disk. It's one of the two types of control groups we run (the other is where we just call you and ask about products, no DVDs). Also, as I understand it, "I don't know, I don't use it" is as useful to ASI as "yes, I use it all the time, here's why." What it tells them is what kind of consumer doesn't go for their products and how they can improve their image/product to get you on their side.

Anonymous calling fraud - That's kind of silly. It's not like you had to pay anything. And if the disk doesn't work, all you have to do is mail it back.

Next anonymous - The woman you talked to was probably very new. As I said in my last comment, we have a very short training session and then we are put straight onto the phones. I had no idea what I was sending people until I went home that night and looked it up on youtube. Some people have worked there for months and still only know that it's a "half hour sitcom suitable for family viewing." If we sound insecure, please be nice! It isn't our fault - management just doesn't want to pay for training software. As for the prize drawings, my understanding is that you are entered as soon as you agree to participate. It has nothing to do with mailing back the DVD. In fact, I've heard of people winning who never even received the DVD! How can I keep you on the phone for 40 minutes? I have no idea. I am terribly thankful to any of you who are willing to go through all of that and I really wish that we could tell you how long it would take before you agree to it. I can assure you, however, that our lunch room is filled with people feeling awful about it.

Next anonymous - the booklets aren't directly related to the commercials in the show. As far as I understand it, they are about seeing whether you change your mind when you decide on a brand within a short period of time. It tells us how to interpret the answers that you give us.

Next anonymous - as I said, the sweepstakes has to do with when you agree to participate, not when you actually receive the package. Also, some of them are misprinted and show the wrong date (I know, it's stupid. I've had to deal with so many people who agreed to the recruitment AFTER the sweepstakes are scheduled to end according to their booklets). Basically, just change the dates to be the next month and think of it as yet another bureaucratic oversight.

Tim W - It isn't a scam (like frauds, scams require that we actually take money or something similar from you). Trickery is standard practise in research, they do it all the time in psychology for example. The reason is that if people know what they are answering for, they will not answer honestly. Rather, they will answer based on what they think the interviewer wants to hear. In the context of ASI, you would pay more attention to the commercials than you would when you are normally watching TV, which makes the whole thing invalid.

Lisa - I'm sorry to hear that your package smelled bad. Thankfully, our call centre is scent free. As for the more personal questions, those are usually to get a feel for the type of person you are. For example, if 90% of people who purchase product X are also very family centred, they may make more advertising that focuses on the benefits of product X to your family. I understand that some of the questions can feel very personal (I did a survey just the other day on panty liners, for example), but it's not "crooked." It's not like we are trying to find out when you will be out of the house so we can rob you or anything. Also, all answers are smushed together so that your individual answers will never be seen together. Rather, it will be presented in a format like "80% of women between the ages of 25 and 35 who have a college education answer that they would put their children's needs before their own."

Erica - Again, this is standard practise in all research, including psychology. It isn't so much that they want to go out and trick you as it is that they want to find a way to make you answer honestly and trickery is the best way to do that. Also, pilot TV programmes are most certainly distributed before they are aired. This is often done in focus groups but, at least for some types of programming, it is more and more being done in this way because companies have found that this system gets a better range of answers. That's also why you can often find movies that aren't in theatres yet or TV shows that haven't aired yet on the internet if you know where to look and what to look for.

Stephanie - combination of all of the above. Although sometimes I wonder if the REAL test is to see how long we will stay working there despite how bad many of us feel.

Donna - Yet again, it isn't a scam. I don't understand why people keep saying it's a scam! The companies are just testing their commercials to see how they fly with people before they put them on the air. They have found that this method is by far more effective than focus groups, so I doubt that the number of letters you could raise would make much of a difference. However, I would gladly support you if you wrote to the companies and asked for better compensation since I don't think that a "chance to win in a prize draw" is by any means adequate compensation for interviews that can last up to an hour.

Anonymous who got a hang up - the person you spoke to may have panicked. He may have done poorly on evaluations and was worried that he would lose his job if his supervisor found out that he was handling you poorly. He may have simply coded your call as a "refusal." Or, if his English isn't very strong, he may have misunderstood you and thought that you were refusing to participate. In either case, this is not standard practise and we are NOT ALLOWED to do that. As for your 4-6 issue, you can schedule callbacks any time between 3-8. If you scheduled it for a time that you knew you would have to be at work, you can hardly hold ASI responsible.

Ann said...

Sorry for that last comment, it doesn't make much sense without context. I tried to post it and thought it went through, but I guess it didn't. Anyway, I am currently working for Audience Studies and I want to try to answer some of your concerns and questions. I will try to re-type the general gist of what I had said.

Ok, first of all, you mentioned that the person you spoke with gave you a 1800 number instead of answering your questions. This probably had nothing to do with instructions to communicate only certain kinds of information, but rather with the fact that we are NOT well trained. Our training session is very short and then we are put right onto the phones. We are given a book of "blurbs" (responses to use in certain situations) that not only don't cover a lot of issues ("what is this company about?" for example, is not in there), but we also don't have a chance to read it until AFTER our first day of working.

You mention that it was obvious to you what it was all about. Unfortunately, this isn't what mostly happens. The gullibility of people, even when faced with so much evidence showing that what they've been told isn't true, is really scary. I would say that only about one out of every 50 calls asks me when I do a callback if it's about the commercials. Only about one in 20 mention it after spending near 40 minutes talking about the commercials. In fact, you wouldn't believe the number of people who go through the entire call and then say something like "I can't wait to see what changes you make to the show when it comes on TV!"

As for the show being terrible, again, you wouldn't believe the number of people who give it very positive reviews.

Why doesn't Audience Studies make their own? Probably because it was much cheaper to buy a failed pilot than it would be to hire script-writers, directors, set designers, actors, etc.

Sorry this is so bullet-pointed. As I said, I had a much better and thought-out response, but it got lost somewhere in cyber-space. Anyways, before I close, I would just like to apologize to everyone for calling you (this isn't my ideal job by any means, but it pays the bills and it has flexible hours so I can go to school). I also hope that I've been able to address some of your questions. If anyone has any other questions about Audience Studies that they would like answered, you may e-mail me at MrPopularSentiment@gmail.com and I will answer to the best of my ability. Obviously, please me nice and, if you find out my real identity, don't make it public (I would rather not get fired). I'm trying to help!

Cath said...

The show was terrible and outdated, but here's what I noticed - The Pampers commercial was brand new! I only noticed because I think it's brilliant! It's the one where all the multicultured babies show gratitude for the package of Pampers in the pram. For every package purchased, money goes toward vaccines for UNICEF...
I won't be switching diaper brands anytime soon, (Pampers just isn't worth the extra $8 a pack, I'm sorry...) but I will buy one package to help the cause.
I believe this was the bottom line of this particular survey.
It seems like a lot of work, but it obviously keeps people employed and I'm thankful to not be one of them...
Best of luck to everyone at ASI, though you could use some restructuring, your marketing worked for me!

smiles1369 said...

I work for Ipsos-Direct, which does a lot of the Audience Studies work. No, it's not a scam. It's just so they can get feedback on the commercials, as Ann said. And personally, I've been working there for a year now, so I know how to answer ppl's questions about the company, but most people freeze up when they're relatively new. So chill if they sound 'insecure', they ARE. Wouldn't you be? Trying to convince random ppl on the phone to do this survey and watch a DVD? It sucks, trust me.
Anyways, if you're not willing to spend a while on the phone, don't say yes to the survey, most of them are a minimum of 30 minutes, and some of them get you to watch 2 further commercials after all kinds of questions about what commercials you remember and what products you use. And those can be up to an hour or more. But please, don't yell at ppl on the phone when they ask you to do a survey. More than likely it's just some poor kid who works there because they pay kind of decently and you don't have to do any physical labour.
And yes, the show's pretty bad. But they use the same one in Britain (I'm now on the shift that calls the UK), and they like it even less, 'cause it's American comedy. And to be honest, it's not much worst than most sitcoms out there today.

Anonymous said...

I've worked for Ipsos for two years, and while I am now confident and able to deal with almost anything thrown at me, it's an acquired skill. When I was a newbie, I wasn't confident, in fact after three weeks of working there, one guy I was trying to get to do it figured out I was a newbie and gave me a hard time! Generally, a lot of newbies ARE given this sort of work to do, since it's relatively easy, and straightforward. So yes, not all of them are confident, but it's a matter of patience. Being hung up on is certainly not professional, nor is it something we are ever allowed to do.

But if you do get the DVD, please try to get through as much of the followup survey as possible. If you only do part of it, there's a chance that we won't be able to count it as a "complete" so essentially you wasted your own time, and you wasted ours. It means a lot to us if you tough through as much as possible, especially since we can't call back at a later time, it all has to be done during one call.

Badback said...

I wasn't able to watch this on the day I was supposed to so I had someone else watch it for me. I felt so badly when they called back to do the phone interview I called their long distance number to apologise. Doubt I'll here from them?
The DVD was dropped and cracked so I actually went to UTube and tried to watch it. It was ok but I didn't finish it.
If they send me another dvd should I watch it or is this really just a marketing scam? Does anyone ever win the prizes?

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm glad there's this blog regarding Audience Studies, and I'm thankful that Ann addressed the concerns in a very thought out manner.

I work also at Audience Studies, and trust me, no one who works there likes to mislead a respondent. The way it is set up really is to see if people will notice those commercials if they were on TV and if they should be kept or made at all.

There are actually some people who love doing the follow up calls despite the time on the phone, but that is few and far between.

Again, no one who works there likes doing this, and we agree that it's not without fault, but on the clients point of view these commercials and research can make them money or lose money.

It may be a small comfort, but though the tv show may not be what gets aired on tv, some of the commercials that you watch are as a result of people like you who give their thoughts and opinions on them. Some commercials are kept on for a longer time, and some are actually made ... either kept with the initial idea and/or with changes.

Trust me, the interviewer who calls you has spoken out and voiced concern on one issue or another on how to make these interviews a little better if not a lot better. However, our voice is too often ignored.

Anonymous said...

Part 2:

We would love to tell you during the interview about the true intent of our studies, but we have the potential of getting a severe warning to getting fired. The U.K. version of this allows, at the end, to give a brief description of its true intent and an apology for any deception that the respondent may feel.

So, why would anyone want to work there if we don't agree with it? The job IS hard, and can be filled with a lot of stress, but there is a flexiblity that may not be with other jobs for students, elderly, disabled, and it pays a decent enough amount of money. There are those, like myself, who hate what they do but without a better alternative must trudge along.

Many of us come home drained for one reason or another from the job, and we are constantly venting about the overall negative treatment of the important people who essentially give us our money: you the respondent.

Without a doubt, we feel bad for ourselves but we DO feel bad for you.

Anonymous said...

Part 3:

Ultimately what I'm trying to say is that for those of you who are upset with Audience Studies, I can't blame you, but I just hope that you won't blame us, the person on the other line. We ARE on your side.

Maybe we should take a stand and say "no more," and force ourselves to find a better job, but please understand, it isn't always that easy.

The mother who is spending precious minutes with us on the telephone while trying to feed her children can just as often be interviewed by a mother who needs this job to feed *her* children.

In addition, if you are unhappy with the end result, I strongly suggest contacting the clients ... those whose commercials were on the dvd, and those whose products are on the forms.

It may encourage them to give you some form of compensation such as a coupon or voucher, but most of all, if offered in a constructive manner, giving them feedback that may change the surveys for the better would not only help us, but would help you the respondent in the long run.

Anonymous said...

P.S. In case you are wondering why the U.K. version of Audience Studies allows interviewers to give even a small mention of the intent behind the call back is because of rules set by that Division.

The North American side of things feels that if it is made known that there will be a potential for future bias on the part of the respondent (despite the inability to participate more than once) and through word of mouth.

At least that's the insinuation we are given. [We risk dismissal for any revelations given to the respondent.]

Audience Studies does need to realize that they have to make changes if they are going to continue. Of course, there are still respondents doing the studies for us, so they don't necessarily feel any urgency for changes.

Again, if enough people voiced their conerns and complaints to the clients, there may be positive changes taking place. We the interviewers continue to rally for the respondents, but, as said above, our words mean very little to the company and/ or clients.

Anonymous said...

After 32 minutes on the phone with this young man for whom English was NOT his first language, I was really frustrated and not at all happy with this process! First of all, he asked me whether or not I saw a commercial during the DVD about "cuffs." I said no. Then he inquired as to whether I recalled seeing a commercial about a product called "Ro-bit-i-sun." Again, I said no. Finally, after getting the instructions to watch a commercial at the end of the DVD while he waited on the phone, I saw that it was about someone with a cough and Robitussin! Good Grief! I'm pretty bright and still could not tell what in the hell this guy was talking about! A total waste of my time and more likely a waste of time for whoever paid for the survey to be done!

Anonymous said...

Well, I think that maybe smiles1369 was the person who called me...lol! The man I spoke with had confidence enough to get me to say sure, which is not easy to do.
I am, like most of us am very busy with my every day life, and don't have time for this.
I am glad though, that I decided to google ASI before even opening the package sent to me. After reading how terrible the DVD is and spending another 30 or more minutes on the phone, I think it will remain unopened...lol!
However, Smiles, I do appreciate market research and I do appreciate (and sympathize) with those of you who do the calling! So good luck!

Anonymous said...

Well, they can kiss my smoochie.I feel violated. After I watched the CD it confirmed my suspicion that is was market research and nothing more. I think all of the top management in the video work for audience studies.

Anonymous said...

I, too, wanted to play the game, "Do You Like This TV Show?" I wasted over an hour of my life with their booklets, DVD and phone interview. When the phone interviewer got to the point where she wanted me to put the DVD back into the player to lok at something again, I was done. Just say, "NO" to Audience Studies. It wasn't fun at any level.

Anonymous said...

I work there too and the best answer is if you are even a little suspicious "Just say no!" It will save both you and us a lot of grief!!

Anonymous said...

I've been working with the company for a few months now and yes it's annoying but the pay is decent. Sorry for the inconvenient calls, we all...well I try and I know most people try to be nice on the phone so please be nice back. =)

Anonymous said...

For all of you who, like me, tried to be nice to the phone poller after watching the Rocky LaPorte show (which by the way has been done already to death!)I too triedto be patient AND NICE BUT after 45 minutes they wanted me to put the disk back in and watch another commercial. Please, justbe up front from the first call and tell me you want to know which products I use, which I like and which I would consider buying. DO NOT call me and lie. It was a horror!

Anonymous said...

My phone rang 7 times in less than 30 minutes from a "market research" number on a Friday night. I got so tired of them calling I finally answered and agreed to watch their DVD and respond with a follow up call on 2/17/09. I put the DVD in my computer since that is basically how I watch DVD's and it wouldn't play and then it shut down my computer. After that I decided to just look at the "prize" booklets and then wing the interview. One look at booklet 1 I was a little unsure about the whole sitcom research and then I looked at booklet 2 and noticed it was similar and had nothing at all to do with sitcom's and decided to look it up online.

I had a feeling this was shady the second the dvd wouldn't play and it booted my system, I'm glad I found this site and read up on it before I got stuck on the phone for an hour talking about product research issues.

Anonymous said...

I was also very angry that I wwasted all this time on a maxi pad commercical, which I do not care about! I tthought I was giving imput into a TV show, which I felt was worth my time. Maxi pads are not worth 1 1/2 hours of my life.
I was also mad that the interviewer had to read all the answers for every single question. Ishe said she had to give all the answers, so I don't blame her personally, but these rules are just wasting more of my time. It's also a waste of my time asking me the same questions over and over again, and it's a waste of my time to ask me certain questions when say I've never bought maxi pads. It's called common sense people! I just said I never use this product and then I get asked a question about what are my thoughts when making the choice to buy this product! I'll never fall for this kind of scam again. and yes Audience studies people, it's a scam when I'm lied to waste my time on something I deem uunimportant. You're not getting your prize book back or your lame DVD!

Anonymous said...

Just received the packet today and I was hesitant to give my info over the phone, but reluctantly did. The guy told me it was coming by UPS of Fed Ex, so I gave my physical address and received it on the day I am supposed to watch it at my post office box. I decided to google their company before I opened. Not sure I'm even going to watch, but I gave my word. I'm sure not going to fill out booklets, nor be on the phone for 30+ minutes tomorrow! Last time I agree to anything over the phone!!

Anonymous said...

I fell for it too. I figured it was probably for market research, but I thought they would at least give me something that was mildly entertaining, watching the show was more likely to kill me than entertain me.

My favorite part of the experience was that I had to have the caller repeat herself incessantly because there was a bad connection or something. I was in the middle of finals but thought Id do the nice thing and lend them some of my time. Like 50 minutes into the process I think the caller got tired of repeating herself and told me that was all she needed to know.

We all should have been compensated for at least having the watch that awful show, let alone answering the questions.

Anonymous said...

After all the blogs I found here, the one question I couldn't find answered anywhere was...did anyone actually receive the magical box of "prizes"? I assume not...based on the comments posted here. I've watched the show, filled out the forms, but haven't done the interview yet (and don't plan to).

Anonymous said...

My wife worked for a market research firm doing telephone interviews while in college and I have a background in marketing.

The "employee" posts tracks well with the experience my wife reports (rude interviewees, hang-ups, and general nastiness toward her personally). Hey folks, they're just trying to do an honest job--there's no reason to be so venomous towards a fellow human being!

The scary thing about Audience Studies, Inc., however, is that thay have the appearance of a scam--enough truth to be believable, but you're left wondering if you're being set up for a fall (which is why I'm checking up on them before watching the DVD).

I've not seen any posts that someone's been taken financially, or in some other way irreparably injured. So it sounds like ASI just does a lousy job of training their people before sending them out to fend for themselves.

Anonymous said...

I work for a company that ASI outsources their work to. I will say this. . . this is not a scam. Not in any way shape or form. However, it sounds like a scam and is set up like a scam would be set up and is deceptive. When being trained on how to recruit people for these studies, I remember the higher ups telling us these in almost verbatim form "We really don't care what they have to say when we ask these questions about the show. . . what we really care about are the commercials but don't tell them that." I remember when the question was asked "What if they ask how long the callback will take?" They answered "It will take about an hour to an hour and a half, but you CAN NOT tell the respondent that." and then when everyone was getting trained on the callbacks for these types of jobs, they said "At this part, where you're asking them these open ended questions about the show. . . just pretend to care and lightly tap the keyboard so it sounds like you're typing but really we don't care."

So all in all, do the survey, you could get a $100 prize and you'll help out a fellow human being. It sounds like a scam but it really isn't.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to read these other comments. I am disgusted with the dishonesty that was used to get consumer thoughts on products. I have emailed P&G and will not be buying their products. There are too many unethical business practices. There should be repercussions for those companies who use such practices. I would encourage others to send a message to the companies who hire Audience Studies.

Jessica said...

I also did this study and I did it all the way through and was supposed to receive 10 Bucks for doing the entire thing. When I got my mail today I had an envelope from the United States Postal Service and inside was the letter from Audience Studies that said enclosed is your cash gift. But, someone from the post office has stolen it out and threw away the original envelope and put it in theirs. This isn't the first time the post office has stolen money from where I live. Did anybody receive any money from this study?

LaurenC said...

I have to say, I was much more sympathetic and willing to participate having read all of these comments and knowing what to expect. And if anyone here works with a guy who just learned how to pronounce "feisty" while interviewing me, tell him I said hi. :)

Anonymous said...

I received this dvd. Although the proposal seems truly suspicious as a scam, I figured it won't be able to harm me in anyway since it's in a dvd player , so I tried it anyway. When the first commercial came up, it became apparent to me that it is about commercials and most probably nothing about the show.
However, I don't feel bad about it. I know it is perfectly reasonable for marketing company to set up a certain "story" in order to get reasonable survey results, and I actually feel "sorry" that I saw through their disguise. Anyway, after viewing the comments here, it confirmed me about the company purpose, and I would like to share some of my time.

Anonymous said...

This is a message for some of you very rude people I sadly have to call 4 days a week:

Saying "uh huh" is rude. Common sense and just simple manners, I guess some people lack. When answering the phone saying "uh huh" makes you sound like an uneducated ignorant hillbilly and FYI the proper response to thank you is your welcome NOT "uh huh"

So thank you to those who have manners and respond accordingly even if they don't want to do the survey. To the rest of you... all the best and I really hope you read this and learn something.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts about this whole thing, which I too got caught up in, are this: I have a marketing degree acquired many years ago and this type of marketing research is ridiculous. If companies want REAL feedback, then a "studies" company needs to reconstruct it's fact gathering processes. Instead of offering limited options of answers for the surveyee to choose from, just ask what product brands within each category that individual uses. Honestly, people are smarter than given credit.

Secondly, the reality of original "marketing" call being made is not supposed to happen for anyone who is on the "Do Not Call" list. It is a federal offense.

srbushman said...

I'm so glad for this post, where can vent! I enjoy market research, and think I have a great perspective and have good feedback to give. (I'm sure most everyone does!) But I do NOT appreciate being tricked into taking a 40 minute long survey, while I have 3 kids under the age of 6 demanding my attention. I do not blame the interviewer (who kept yawning on the phone, poor thing) I am calling and complaining to Pringles (who the survey was majorly about). I believe that if enough people complained to the perspective company that the survey was discussing, they would stop using such a dishonest form of opinion finding.

Anonymous said...

Just so every one knows I used to work for Audience Studies, and the surveys we conducted were just to get your opinions on the commercials. We could care less aboutt he TV show. Whenever we asked questions about the show, we didnt record your opinions, we only recorded your opinions when asked about the commercials. It really is a dumb survey. Sorry everyone :p, I dont work there anymore anyway haha.

Kate Woodbury said...

I recently agreed to keep a television journal for the Nielsen Ratings' folks. And since I wrote this post about Audience Studies to begin with, I wanted to go on record: Nielsen Company does market research right! The company contacted me, got my agreement, sent me the journal--money enclosed!--on time, and followed up to see if I had any questions. The journal was exactly what the individual on the phone said it would be and although I got tired of filling it out after a week, it didn't require that much effort on my part. I also didn't have to spend hours on the phone answering leading questions. Kudos to good market researchers!

Anonymous said...

I worked for ASI back in 1967 and 1968. It was run a lot differently back then. People were invited to the Preview House at 7655 Sunset Blvd in West Hollywood. Usually, they watched a REAL movie (I saw Night of the Generals) when I went as an invited employee of ASI and took some of my friends. Some people were able to press a button if they liked or disliked something. But, there were questionaires to fill out about the commercials. It looks like ASI has definintely changed a lot since then, and unfortunately, not for the better. But, when I worked there I really enjoyed it and the people I worked with. It was a CLASS operation. Hopefully, they will be again some day.

Joe said...

It is readily apparent to me that Audience Studies, Inc. is a scam--to its clients. The claims that its methods are scientific is laughable. The most obvious problem is that their test audience is highly self-selective. The length of the viewing interviews is also indicative of sloppy "methodology" as is the nature of the questions. I suspect the purpose is a) to give the "analysts" lots from which to pick and choose and b) to use the volume of responses to hide the number of people responding and the quality of their responses.