What Do Copywriters Do at Focus Groups? Part 1

This question comes up a lot. “What do copywriters do at focus groups?” And the answer is actually pretty involved.

But first, an advertising focus group primer.

Focus groups are gatherings of ‘very ordinary people’ who are paid a small amount of money (usually $50 or so) for a few hours of their time to come to some very ordinary industrial park location in the middle of pretty much nowhere to share their feelings about advertising ideas BEFORE THEY ARE PRODUCED.

This is to make sure no HUGE mistakes are made. This is to make sure people keep their jobs…by and large.

Focus groups happen all over, but usually take place in certain places in the country that are considered good ‘litmus tests’ for the rest of the country. Meaning these are the people who are collectively supposed to give the ‘popular opinion’ as to whether the advertising ideas they will see are going to get them to buy the product or not.

And if not, WHY?

Big responsibility, no doubt.

In the groups, a moderator will usually get the people talking about advertising in general. He or she (usually a she) is hired to get to the bottom of what people really think. And to do that, some pre-group banter happens. All the while, the moderator is very clear to point out that she is INDEPENDENT of anything and any brand.

Eventually, she will show the creative ideas for the proposed campaign. (This is the point where everyone in the back behind the two-way mirror usually STOPS eating the M&M’s and pays attention!) This is the moment of truth. People back at the agency and back at the client headquarters have paid a lot of money for this next part. So all talk ceases.

“Shhh. She’s showing the boards!”

At the point where the creative work is shown, the moderator can either present the television ideas herself (usually poorly) or she can ask the copywriter to come out from behind the mirror and present the ideas to the group.

It then becomes the copywriters’ job to present the work objectively, as if he or she is NOT the creator of the ideas being presented. Meanwhile, he or she IS. In fact, good moderators usually go FAR out of their way to make the people at the focus group feel that they can be ULTRA HONEST about the ideas, even in front of the copywriter.

It can be brutal. Or it can be the best ego massage you could ever imagine. That’s the thing about advertising focus groups, they usually end either very, very poorly or pretty well (clients will always be suspicious of the ads that do well. It’s their jobs to be.)

So, what do copywriters do at focus group?

They pray. Mostly they pray.

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