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Friday, 31 October 2014

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

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Readers' comments (8)

  • Well said! It's not the first time The Apprentice has portrayed our industry in an unflattering light - We wrote this about one of the older series: http://www.bigpicture.co.uk/2011/06/30/the-apprentice/

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  • I too flinched when these words were spoken.
    But then I quickly thought that no-one will think badly of market research when it is these individuals bagging it.
    No-one who actually works for a living can take any of these 'business people' seriously. Can they?
    The EPIC FAIL that was team evolve had far more than MR to blame.
    And brace yoursleves for this week. I happened to attend the taping of 'You're Fired' yesterday for this weeks episode. The use of market research is not much better. However, this time, biig Al will not hear of MR being blamed.
    More EIPC FAIL to look forward to and not a scratch on MR this time....

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  • It is not just this episode but all too often the contestants are running off to do a "focus group" to assess consumer reaction to their ideas - how often would we as professionals recommend just one focus group?

    Not only that it implies that any idiot can go out and run focus groups

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  • It also completely disrespects the validatory role that quantitative work plays in the real world, as opposed to their "let's ask 5 people" and base our entire idea around that.

    Market research is like a lamppost, you either lean on it, pee on it or use it to light the way.

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  • When it comes to failing to understand the value of research . you need look no further than Alan Sugar. I once had the misfortune of a real life business encounter with, the not so sweet, Mr Sugar. I was an advertising planner invited to pitch for the Amstrad account. We were given five days, including the weekend, to prepare strategic thoughts and creative inspiration. At the start of the pitch, Monday morning at Amstrad, Sugar brusquely demands ' Just show me the pictures', sub text,' cut the crap I know best' and then leaves. Scant consolation may be, but I never watch the show.

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  • Frances - thanks for that utterly brilliant comment / observation! I love it!

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  • The industry faces so much battering in every which way, we should've got used this by now. In fact its not even worthy of our contempt

    There's the classic joke about the lost bloke in a hot air balloon who guesses a lady on the ground is a market researcher- as she tells him the exact co-ordinates and speed of the balloon- which he finds totally useless. The lady then guesses the bloke must be a marketeer as he didn't know where he wanted to go, or which way to go - but now he blamed the researcher.

    Its a joke replayed where the lady has different professions sometimes IT engineer, software etc... BUT THE GUY ON THE BALLOON IS ALWAYS FROM MARKETING !!

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  • Great article echoing what I was shouting at the television screen. I heard Sir Alan praise the value of research one week and slag it off the next so he's not exactly consistent in his opinion.

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