Tuesday, September 06, 2005


So a marketing research company just recruited my mother to do a survey by mail. They pitched it as a review of a situation comedy and sent her a tape. She’s supposed to watch this on Tuesday and respond to questions over the phone the next day.
So she got the packet today – it indeed included a tape which came with a surprising Rocky-and-Bullwinkleesque warning that it would erase itself as she watched it (it turns out that it just contained a ratchet or something that prevented rewinding, which is almost equally weird). It also came with two cheaply printed packets that contained black and white photographs of popular household consumer goods (like East German pornography – ZING!). In fact, the packets contained photographs of the SAME sets of household goods, but she was supposed to pick her favorites from one before the sitcom and one after.
The sitcom, which was copyrighted 2000, was called “Dads” and was unbelievably bad. The biggest star-power they could muster was whoever played Ross’ ex-wife on Friends, plus it leaned heavily on child actors. Like so many shows that I have seen in the past five years it reminded me of the sitcoms that characters in better sitcoms or The Simpsons watch. Also, it included commercial blocks.
As canny readers may have guessed already (and as my mom immediately realized) this whole market research exercise turned out to be about the advertisements. It turns out that the firm that’s running this, Ipsos-ASI, specializes in determining whether advertising is effective – if you google it, you get a bunch of articles on retention, whether or not viewers remember the ads that they’ve seen during, say, a colossaly banal sitcom.
My theory is that Ipsos-ASI bought “Dads” as a kind of television byproduct, that it was a pilot whose clearly retarded wings would never bear it aloft into the empyrean of other quality shows like Joey. I suppose it’s a little dishonest to try to pass off this research as being about the sitcom (it wouldn’t pass an IRB for anthropology, in my opinion, although it might fly in one of the fields where they allow deception) but it doesn’t really bother me that much. I do find the idea that there is a science of memory surrounding advertising pretty interesting. I wrote one of my generals essays on advertising as dreams, and my panel suggested that I might consider the idea that we generally forget our dreams – do we forget advertisements in the same way? Is it interesting to think of remembering advertisements as either natural or unnatural?
Anyway, I felt EXACTLY like Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener during my investigation - it was like I was a GOD, even better than watching the scene with the repulsive harlot in Spider.

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