The losing candidate in The Apprentice boardroom
Episode 8 of this year’s The Apprentice – aired last Wednesday – poignantly illustrated the distorted and damaging representation of market research currently being broadcast to the public on a weekly basis.
In this particular episode, candidates were tasked with creating an online dating concept targeting a particular segment of the population. Team Evolve, led by project manager Jason, opted for the over-50s, having decided that the young professionals market was already saturated.
Regular viewers will know by now this decision could only go one of two ways: either it would be seen as a brave choice to capitalise on a fresh part of the market; or a grave, ill-informed mistake where Sir Alan Sugar berates them for not sticking with what they know best.
“But never fear! They had some well thought-out and robust market research to steer them in the right direction; five bang-on-target respondents gathered around a pub table. What could go wrong?”
The rest of Team Evolve were clearly scared it was going to be the latter. Their main concern was that as a group of twentysomethings they were too far removed from the target customer to be able to figure out what they would want from a dating website.
But never fear! They had some well thought-out and robust market research to steer them in the right direction; five bang-on-target respondents gathered around a pub table. What could go wrong?
Needless to say, they lost. Friendship and Flowers, the dating site for over-50s, was a bust. Criticism was heaped on their ‘bland’, ‘unmemorable’ and ‘patronising’ advert – for which the blame was said to rest squarely on the shoulders of the ‘market research’ they’d conducted. Never mind the barely-there website, or the funereal tone of their advert, or the awful parting wink, insinuating who-knows-what but I don’t want to think about it.
No, it was clearly all the fault of the market research.
“You should never just blindly follow market research,” they were told. And we agree, you shouldn’t. But we take issue with the way the show was edited as if to imply that all we as market researchers do is take consumer commentary as fact. What we do takes years of practice. We interpret, we analyse and we embed. We take all that we know about our clients’ businesses and sectors and weave an insightful story. We do not ask five people in a room what we should call a website and then take their word as gospel.
Of course, had they had the right people in that room to begin with, and asked the right questions in the right way for longer than it took them to drink half a shandy, they might have ended up a little closer to where they should have been.
So, Sirrralan, if you need us to come and give next year’s intake of ‘entrepreneurs’ a crash course in how to successfully conduct market research, drop me a line. If not, please can we ask that you get your facts straight and stop sullying the name of market research.
Rhiannon Price is research director and Samantha Bond is research executive at Northstar
- The full episode is available until 26 July on the BBC iPlayer