Apparently, for quite a while now, some marketers have hosted focus groups using hypnosis as their tool. The wraps are off in a recent Brandweek article “Hypnosis Brings Groups into Focus.” I find it interesting that the article refers to hypnosis as a “secret weapon” for Fortune 500 companies and ad agencies.
This calls to mind the marketing mind meld from a previous topic I blogged about here. As science comes together increasingly with marketing, new “tools” are becoming available, and I think we ought to explore what these are, how they are used, and decide on the pros and cons they represent.
Here’s how hypnosis is being used by marketers. Eight subjects set aside two hours for “the process”. In the first 25 minutes, they are introduced to “the process”, so they can relax. Once they arrive at what is referred to as the “alpha” state of relaxation, the hypnotist asks each subject to comment on topics related to brands and products and their experiences with them.
The point: more candid, deeper observations can be gleaned by using the hypnosis method with survey groups. These deeper observations tend to be highly emotive in nature, and that really goes to consumers’ core feelings about products and brands, as well as the associations they make to them. Knowing that our emotions drive us to make the choices that we do as consumers, this is obviously powerful information. One marketer cited in the article stated it this way: “It’s about getting emotional content that is so much more vivid and colorful.”
A great example was given. When a focus group was asked about Volvo, the old stand-by “safety” came out. When the same group was led by a hypnotist, the subjects’ true feelings came out about the Volvo brand. Terms like “Volvo equals being middle-aged” brought the conversation about the brand to “a deeper, more emotional place,” according to the marketing agency that conducted the group.
While the information that was divulged may not have been pleasant for Volvo to hear, the contention is that it is far more helpful to get an accurate read on consumer feelings about the brand.
The marketers who were interviewed for the article were quick to point out that some of their corporate clients are not comfortable with, and won’t allow the use of hypnosis with their focus groups. That some even had “ethical concerns”. You think?
It was also emphasized that “the power of suggestion can’t prompt consumers to say or do anything against their will.” Hmmmm. . .one wonders. . .
As you might expect, the use of hypnosis with marketing groups has its detractors. Noted author Douglas Rushkoff: “It’s worse than nonsense. It’s a part of the continuing trend of American businesses moving away from actual expertise. They are wasting their marketing dollars.”
New York Reason consultant Marc Babej: “I have a particular venom for this area. These subconscious attitudes have little to do with purchase decisions. Most consumers navigate the marketplace based on the tangible benefits of the product.” While I don’t agree with the latter statement Babej made, since emotions play a much larger role in consumer purchasing decisions than basic features and benefits these days, I’m sure his observations will resonate with many marketers.
* Do you think there is a place for hypnosis in focus groups?
* Do you think it’s worth going deeper to get at focus group subjects’ true feelings about products and brands?
* Do you think this is too invasive and can be abused, or do you think this is a potentially valuable tool that more marketers should avail themselves of?
I’d love to hear from you.