Thursday, December 04, 2008

If you build it, they won't come

My previous post refers to the difference between what people say and what they do, particularly when it comes to media. I should expand.
  • In research women's magazine readers will always say that they wish the models on the fashion pages were older and rounder. When they are provided with pages of older, rounder models, they immediately stop buying the magazine.
  • Similarly people always say they would like the magazine to feature clothes that are more within their price range. Once that is provided they point out that if they wanted clothes like that they would simply go and buy them.
  • Everybody thinks they've got broad taste in music. Actually, they haven't. "Broad" just means "what I like".
  • Both sexes say they would like to have a magazine that is for older people. But they never regard themselves as older, even when they are.
  • People say they want practical, cookable recipes and not beautiful arty pictures of food shot in foreign countries. They lie.
  • People say they're not interested in celebrities. From The New York Times to The Sun, the evidence is clear. They are more interested in celebrities than anything else in the world.
  • Nobody really wants "Top Of The Pops" back.


  1. I don't know why so much store is set by focus groups. Two groups of women in a converted semi in Didsbury should not dictate magazine policy, but often they do.

    I don't hold with it.

    As you say, the minute you give them what they say they want they desert you in droves.

  2. Don't get me future depends partly on those women in Didsbury.

  3. Anonymous6:45 pm

    All we really want is a quality monthly magazine for under £3.50.
    I don’t think people buy magazines on impulse anymore, i.e when a train is delayed due to snow or leaves.
    I’d habitually buy a different magazine at least once a week; Wisden Cricketer, Four-Four-Two, The Word etc – but the fact is a casual buy has now become a bit more of a commitment.
    You run the very-real risk of forking out a fiver on a load of rubbish. I bought Q the other morning and had read everything of interest before I reached work.

  4. Time to reel out that hoary old quote/misquote "Nobody ever lost money underestimating the taste of the public."

  5. Surely in most of your examples, it's not a case of providing one or the other, but of calibration. (Not emaciated models, but not fat ones either. Some affordable clothes, some not. The occasional aspirational recipe, most that are easy to prepare.) I can understand a publisher's exasperation if research fails to provide all of the answers, but if you run a magazine it's your job to make these decisions on our behalf; it's sort of what we pay you for. You build it, then we'll decide whether to come or not.

  6. I had a dream about a focus group on a mag I work for last night. I was voted 'writer the readership dislikes the most'.

    I blame this blog, which I read before retiring (for the night, not forever).

  7. It is of course just as bad in telly; there was a BBC briefing earlier this week where a research bod said that audience had a clear desire for 'quality' on BBC One at 10.35pm, when all 'quality' means is 'stuff I like'.

    @Joe, I think the point here is a more measured one than "oh bugger focus groups won't tell me what to do". It is that people in focus groups make statements that sound entirely reasonable and useful but that then turn out to be code for something else or just hogwash. The point is only that you take them as gospel at your peril.

    The best purpose I ever heard given for focus groups was as a 'rear view mirror' ie your programme / magazine has tanked and you want to know why; a focus group can tell you that in gory detail, because you are not asking them to speculate. In fact, I think it should be mandatory for every low-slung denim clad London media kid to go visit the aforementioned semi in Didsbury to see how much most people really care about their new programme.

  8. "The point is only that you take them as gospel at your peril."

    Hi Goggler, I think I think that was my point, too: that it's all about interpretation, application and calibration. I think you're right that it may be a code (it's your job to break it would be my reply to that) but I slightly take exception to the idea that it's 'hogwash'. None of the examples David has raised are hogwash. Not a one. They just require a bit of fine-tuning by the media professional is all.

  9. What struck me in my long-ago but still painful experience of the extraction of opinions from punters by such methods is that their opinions don't need to be extracted at all. They're being paid to say something, so they spout forth even if they don't actually have any views at all about the tat being presented to them. In order not to appear ungrateful for the tenner and the coffee and the buns, they come out with things like "I like that one best. Very modern. Very exciting. With all those bright colours and evvyfink."

    And that was just the ABC1s.

  10. One can have too much of the society of hardened media professionals, but one thing I like about them is they are not afraid of saying they like things that they know they're not supposed to like. Unlike most of the public...