written.

That was absurd

Today I had one these bizarre meta-moments were you look on what is happening closely around you and you realize how absurd all that is. I am still shaking my head in disbelief.

I was called by a company doing market research and consumer studies. They had my number because I took part several years ago in a study about McDonald’s. I got some pocket money for it, so I was fine with being in their database in contrast to all those telemarketers who steal 1 hour of your time to ask you about the benefits of thermostats. No joke. I worked in a call center and annoyed people after 9 pm and asked them if they wanted a thermostat that was regulated when they talked to it.

So this company from back then called me again. They did this already twice before but I never fitted in their profile of a young man using a specific brand of shaving mousse.

This time it was about sweets and I eat sweets and apparently I named the right brands, which I fortunately remembered from having them seen in shelves. I usually don’t care about brands. They offered my 50 EUR for 2 hours of my time and I said yes.

So I went there, I watched a TV commercial mock up, answered dozens of questions with a digital thingy that wirelessly transmitted my choices to some people behind a one way mirror and was already a bit puzzled about the effort they put in this. But I was in a room with 20 others, we all looked at three big screens and so I thought they get quite good value for money through large scaling.

Then we were finished and a few chosen, including me, were asked to stay for the group discussion. We got some sandwiches, some drinks and then talked about the famous world of this one variety of branded candies. We talked and talked, we rewatched the mock-up commercial, twice, and speculated on brand identity, interpreted the spot, discussed the poor choice of context and generally dissected every bit of the awful commercial. Then we discussed the design of three new boxes, that have half the number of sweets and a new design, that looked like mid-fourties targeted mid-twenties with the design language of the late 90s. We did not cease to discuss the shape and color and general appearance of the box and its price and its target audience and whether or not you would give this box as a present (we really discussed this for long and several times and with different premises and perspectives and ….) and at this precise moment I had an out of body experience.

Well kind of.

I looked down on the room. 8 people sitting around a table, one guy in front leading the discussion. One in the back typing the protocol. A camera facing the table. Two microphones dangling from the ceiling. A one way mirror hiding who-knows-how-many people watching our discussion.

10+ people spending 3 hours in total discussing a stupid ugly box of candy and an awful commercial that is so generic and boring and stupid that people won’t remember it for a second. All that for a company that thinks optimizing their crappy product will give them half a percent more in sales, probably not even outside the error bars. Countless hours and resources and money invested into this project to tickle out another position behind the comma.

All this is happening every day in so many places at the same time. What a waste of human life time. What good could be done with all this energy.

The longer I thought about it, the worse it got. Most commercials try to increase the market share of a specific brand. And they take this share from another brand of the same company. And then the executive of brand two gets angry and spends even more money to get his share back from the other brand from the same company.

If one day all commercials would cease to exist people would still buy products. Maybe they would rather buy the stuff they need but that is not a bad thing. All those people involved in TV and print ads are a waste of time and resources and energy. Science is struggling to get funded and companies pay companies to pay people to discuss whether they give a box of chocolates to neighbors or colleagues. I got 50 EUR for analyzing a stupid box of candies. This is madness.

Douglas Adams proposed to put this useless middle part of modern society, the part that is neither “thinker” nor “doer”, in a big space ship and let them discover a new home planet. While they believe in being the pioneers of society, the rest stays behind and enjoys a life without telephone sanitizers and advertisement agencies. Unfortunately in his version the world is eradicated from a disease transmitted by infected telephones. This idea was too good to work.