As IMC Specialists and researchers, we are often called upon to observe potential consumers, conduct group analysis observation, and provide insight into their actions, behaviors, mannerisms, and how they interact with each other and stimuli. This project is no different. For this research, we were to conduct a mini focus group. The aim of the focus group was to record the reactions and interactions of the participants as well as note any cases of where one member of the group dominates the observation through both their verbal and non-verbal communications.
For the participants of the study, the three I chose were Christine, Sally, and Donna. Christine is a 40 year old married teacher. Her interests include literature, traveling, and funny movies. Sally is a 69 year old single, and retired teacher. Her interests include gardening, yoga, and caring for her granddogs. Donna is a 73 year old single and retired teacher. Her interests include bonsai, music, and spending time with her son and daughter in law. Donna is also from the United Kingdom and is an active member of the Church of England.
The commercials that were chosen
The three commercials that were chosen to be the topic of the observation were selected for their different types of humor. The commercials involved humor that was cute, crude, and self-deprecating. The first commercial is entitled “Baked Beans, Not for Astronauts”. It involves three astronauts being eaten or smashed by a space creature and the fourth astronaut hiding behind a rock. When the space creature is searching for the fourth astronaut, the astronaut passes gas and drawing the attention of the creature. The second commercial involves actress Melissa McCarthy playing a hero and being called to save certain parts of the environment. Of course, with Melissa McCarthy, the antics involve an element of self-deprecation. The third and final commercial features dachshunds wearing hot dog costumes running across a meadow towards a line of characters wearing ketchup and mustard costumes. It is played out to the sound of sentimental music in the background.
Like stated above, these commercials each feature a different type of humor and use of storyline, characters, and emotional branding. These considerations were used in the hopes of getting varied reactions from each of the respondents and perhaps gaining additional insights from the research.
Documenting the observation
With so many methods available with which to document the observation, the best method; at least for me was clear. I made the choice to document the observation through video, with written notes as a supplement. This method would allow me to focus on observing the respondents without being tied up by attempting to hand write or type detailed notes. Essentially, the only notes I took were insights or thoughts for further consideration. Essentially, taking a lesson from Ladner; “What private sector-ethnographers need is the ability to pluck out quotes quickly(2015, P. 62)”. The use of video also allowed me to easily guide the observation and discussion as well as act as a moderator when needed. Additionally, the video was of great use in going back and reviewing particular portions of the observation for additional insight.
Physical and verbal reactions
Given the varied ages and backgrounds of the members of the group, it was not surprising that reactions were quite varied across the three commercials. When I played the first commercial with the astronauts, all of the members seemed confused since I told them all of the commercials would be funny. At the end when the astronaut passed gas, Christine laughed quite loudly, Sally commented “that’s disgusting” and Donna simply sat there quietly with a disappointed look on her face. At the end of the commercial, Sally was pretty vocal with her disgust at the commercial and the bathroom humor employed.
During the second commercial, the one featuring Melissa McCarthy, all members laughed loudly and comments were made about how much they all loved McCarthy as an actress. After the commercial was played and I was bringing up the third commercial, Sally was leading a conversation about favorite movies featuring McCarthy. In fact, impromptu plans were made to go see her newest release out in theatres; “Life of the Party”.
The third and final commercial with the dachshunds, the reactions were clear and unified. During the showing of the commercial there were quite a few “ahhh’s” and “oh, so cute”. At the end of the commercial, Donna, in a truly British fashion exclaimed that it was “just wonderful”. At that point, all of the members engaged in a conversation about small dogs and who they knew owned the cutest dogs.
As stated by Solomon; “A funny ad inhibits counterarguing (in which a consumer thinks of reasons why he doesn’t agree with the message), so this increases the likelihood of message acceptance because he doesn’t come up with arguments against the product(2013, p. 280)”. This was definitely the case in this observation. In fact, the only counterarguing I heard was Sally expressing her disgust at the astronaut passing gas in the first commercial. Honestly, I don’t see her buying that brand of beans anytime soon. Granted, I doubt Sally was part of the targeted audience that the company had in mind when making this commercial.
Did one person dominate the observation?
With respect to dominating the observation, it was dependant on the commercial. With the first commercial involving the gassy astronaut, I would say that Christine was the dominant one with her loud, animated laughter at the crude humor. Granted, Sally ran a close second with her disgust at the commercial. Moving onto the second commercial, Sally was clearly the most vocal here. She is clearly a fan of McCarthy and was quite involved in leading a conversation about the movies she’s been in and her desire to plan a trip to see her most recent release. When it came to the third commercial, all were quite vocal and animated with expressing how cute the commercial was and their love for dogs. Wrapping up the conversation about dominating the observation, it is worth noting that Donna did not clearly dominate any part of the observation, she simply engaged in conversation led by the others and made simple, general comments at each commercial.
What was learned from this observation?
One of my main takeaways from this observation is the fact that humorous advertisements are not a “one size fits all” type of approach. As was clearly seen in this observation, the reaction varied greatly among the Gen X’er and Baby Boomers involved in the study. Where crude humor was well received by the younger member, it was found to be repulsive by the older member. What’s more, the reactions varied along cultural lines as well. It was clear that Christine and Sally, natives of the United States were quite dominant and animated during the course of the observation. At the same time, Donna, the British citizen was reserved, quiet, and polite only offering simple comments that were mainly of a positive nature. In fact, with Donna I was unsure if she truly enjoyed the commercials or were turned off by them and was only attempting to be polite. In my personal experience, this is a rather common reaction of those who were raised in the United Kingdom.
While simple in nature, this group analysis observation provided a great deal of insight with minimal effort. Through diligent surveillance, this study was able to root out differences among both generations and culture as they apply to the types of humor that appeal to each. As IMC practitioners, we must always value quality research and observation over assumptions and numbers. In the end, while we may have been able to assume the responses noted in this observation, there would have surely been a lack of detail and deep insight. The lesson? Take the time to conduct the research, your clients will thank you for it.
Haynes Baked Beans Astronaut Ad. (2013, December 18). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZgD89VYkVc
HEINZ Ketchup 2016 Hot Dog Commercial the ‘Wiener Stampede’. (2016, February 07). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6igElOW4hUA
Kia Super Bowl Commercial – ” Hero’s Journey”. (2017, February 04). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DVZ14vXfpA
Ladner, S. (2014). Practical ethnography: A guide to doing ethnography in the private sector. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Reed College of Media, West Virginia University. (2018). Week 4 Lesson: Attitudes & Persuasion, Ethnographic Tools & Reporting[Online]. Retrieved from https://ecampus.wvu.edu/webapps/blackboard
Solomon, M. (2013). Consumer behavior: Buying, having, and being, student value edition (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.