Focusing in on Online Focus Groups

Focusing in on Online Focus Groups

ARLINGTON, Va. – Ever wonder just how those online focus groups work? Selling to Kids recently had the chance to go behind the scenes during one of Harris Interactive’s online sessions.

Harris has been conducting online market research since 1997, and earlier this year, entered a partnership with The Wall Street Journal to jointly develop Internet-based research.

The data collected from the focus group we saw wasn’t for research purposes. The folks at Harris put on sample surveys every so often for potential clients to see the process. Observers logged onto the Internet to view the online proceedings, or watched a projection of the Web chat at one of Harris Interactive’s offices in Arlington and New York.

The kids in the survey we saw were between 13 and 17 and, like with many Harris youth surveys, had been recruited from the HarrisZone Web site ( Harris offers various incentives for participants, including money. Members of the panel we watched were each getting paid $20.

What We Saw

Seven kids gathered online and chatted about where they live and whether they’d done their Christmas shopping before the survey began. Then, the Harris moderator ushered them into the focus group chat room, where she greeted them and read them the rules: no cussing, don’t worry about spelling mistakes and speak your mind.

The moderator started by asking the panel what their favorite commercials were. A couple said they liked the Snickers’ ad with the political cartoon characters. Another liked Pentium’s little blue men and two said they didn’t have a favorite. Somewhere along the way, two more participants joined the panel.

Karen Ogden, director of client development for Harris Interactive, said kids have to get permission from Harris representatives to join a focus group late. Most panels have between eight and 14 participants. A technician is available during the chat in case any problems arise. While no one online had any trouble, we did have some difficulty viewing the chat.

The moderator asked the kids why they chose those commercials; most cited humor. She then played a “game” with the group, giving them slogans and having them identify the product. Most had no problems with “Drivers Wanted” (Volkswagen) and “Good to the Last Drop” (Maxwell House).

The participants were then asked about their views on advertising, including whether they click on Web site banner ads. The teens were pretty much in agreement: “hate banner ads,” “I dislike those,” “They are eyesores.” None could think of any product that they first heard about from a banner ad.

How it Works

Following the kids’ dialogue was a bit confusing at times. Some teens would still be talking about an old topic even though the discussion had moved on. We were able to get a better handle on their comments by later reading a transcript of the chat. While watching the panel, online observers were able to chat with each other and ask Harris representatives to ask the teens particular questions. The observers could see the moderator and panel’s remarks during the chat, but the participants could not see anything the observers typed.

Harris generally charges around $5,000 for an online focus group, which typically lasts about two hours.

“If you really break it down, you are saving money,” Ogden said. “Normally, you’d have to pay for food, travel and incentives. This is all covered.”

While the Internet is being used more these days as a research tool, there are some concerns. Some people worry about how you can check the legitimacy of online participants.

“I think that with anything, even with the telephone, you’re not really sure who you are speaking to,” Ogden said. And while she admitted it can be hard to see someone’s emotions via the Net, she said you often find people are more open behind the safety of their computer screens.

Another apprehension is that an Internet sampling only includes the views of respondents with computers. Ogden said research shows the number of people online is increasing and that Harris is working with organizations to bolster those numbers.

Harris also is”honest about some of the hard-to-reach populations that we can or cannot [reach] online,” Ogden said. For instance, she said the elderly population is not represented as much as Harris would like.

As for the online kid panel, most said they enjoyed the experience. To quote one 16-year-old participant: “It’s about time this generation’s opinion matters.”

Study: Teens, Adults Don’t See Eye-to-Eye on Death Penalty

There are a lot of things parents and teenagers don’t always agree on, and the death penalty is no exception. A recent Gallup Youth Survey found that 64 percent of the 13- to 17-year-olds polled favored life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as the punishment for murder. Thirty-two percent supported the death penalty.

Adults were more divided, with 49% choosing the death penalty and 47% preferring life without parole when given no explicit alternative.

Teens between 13 and 15 were more likely than older teens to favor life imprisonment. So were teens with higher academic standings or whose parents both graduated from college, the survey found.

Findings were based on telephone interviews with 500 randomly selected teenagers nationwide. The survey had a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

(Gallup: )

Jonathan Goldmacher

VP & Management Supervisor

Saatchi & Saatchi

New York


Billings: $200MM

Expertise: advertising, concept and product development; research

Employees: 75

What properties are going to be hot in 2001?

Though Harry Potter is an obvious one, we have to applaud the efforts being made to ensure that the property-emblazoned products being created reinforce the book’s “magical” qualities. We’re also excited to see Eloise [from author Kay Thompson’s books] expanded, and think she’ll quickly become a favorite among young kids and their moms, as well as tween girls.

[Nickelodeon’s] “Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius” also looks promising. We’re also excited about WB’s “Osmosis Jones” and Disney/Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.” since both offer an out-of the-box creative premise, cool graphics and broad appeal.

What’s your best marketing advice for 2001?

In marketers’ quest to be timely by associating their brands with licensed properties, we encourage them to be just as concerned with being timeless by making sure their brands and partners tap into key developmental themes of childhood.

Also important is that the properties with which they’re associating reinforce – if not strengthen – their brand’s equities. In the long run, it may not be worth getting involved with “the next big thing” if it’s going to have a negative impact on your brand’s meaning and relevance to kids.

What kid Web sites are you visiting?

NASA Kids (, WB Originals ( and Cartoon Network ( are really cool places for kids, and reliably fun.

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco


Enlace Communications

Los Angeles


Billings: $10 Million

Expertise: Hispanic marketing

Employees: 15

What research topics will your firm tackle in the near future?

We plan to explore usage and attitude variances between U.S.-born Latino teens and foreign-born Latino teens in a variety of categories.

What three issues do you think will explode in the kids marketplace in 2001?

Latino youth marketing, online buying habits of teens, redesigned teen- targeted retail environments.

What are some of the most important marketing principles for a kids marketer to focus on in today’s environment? What’s your best advice for success in 2001?

Be “authentic,” which basically means communicating your kid-targeted message with respect and relevance; be multicultural because kids are becoming more vocal about the fact that their social lives are populated by friends from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

What books are on your reading list this year?

The Tipping Point; The Anatomy of Buzz by Emanuel Rosen.

What is your personal favorite kids product and why?

I’m still a sucker for the old-fashioned stuff, like Pick Up Sticks, Tinker Toys and Colorforms.

It’s all about making something from basically nothing via the use of imagination.

Julie Halpin


The Geppetto Group

New York


Billings: $37MM

Expertise: kids, tween and teen advertising; research; new product development

Employees: 27

What issues do you think will explode in the kids marketplace in 2001?

I think the Internet will continue to become increasingly important. I’m not sure it should be characterized as an “explosion,” but maybe an “evolution” of some of the early efforts made over the last few years. I expect we will see marketers get more creative and experimental, and Web developers [will] be able to apply the lessons learned this past year for even better, more sticky content.

What properties are going to be hot?

There seems to be lots of energy around a few upcoming movie properties: “Shreck” from Dreamworks; “Atlantis” from Disney; and, of course, “Harry Potter” from Warner Bros. I also wouldn’t ignore the potential of “Tomb Raider” and “Final Fantasy” for tweens, and “Jimmy Neutron” from Nickelodeon.

In the television arena, we can expect Cartoon Network to continue to do everything right. Their new properties and licensing efforts have been first rate (witness: Power Puff Girls), and they seem to have figured out what kids want. And, of course, Nickelodeon will continue to set the standard for creative, integrated kid entertainment and marketing.

What’s your personal favorite kids product?

Since most of the people in my office have Razor [Scooters] and ride them around on our hyper-speed concrete floor, I must admit that the Razor is high on my list right now. In fact, I am tempted to buy one for myself. I borrowed a colleague’s to take it to the bathroom last week, and got there in half the time. Now, that’s a product benefit for you.

Wendy Watson

SVP Youth Marketing Practice

Porter Novelli

New York


Billings: NA

Expertise: youth marketing; public relations

Employees: 1,100

What were the greatest successes in kids marketing in 2000?

Digimon toys became one of the hottest kids properties. The Digimon toy line was launched at the FAO Schwarz flagship store in mid-town Manhattan late last year in the midst of Pokemon fervor and went on to become one of the top 10 best-selling action toy brands of 2000.

What properties will be hot in 2001?

The timeless appeal of icon brands [keeps them as] leading favorites among both adults and kids. With the Muppets turning 25 in 2001, the old gang is sure to tap into the sentimentality of adults and win over a new generation of kids. Another property that’s topped the list for the last decade is Power Rangers, which was named the best selling action figure of 2000 and will sustain momentum through its new TV theme of “time travel.”

How will the political environment that has been taking shape this year affect kids marketing?

In the recent election cycle, politicians pointed to the marketing of specific entertainment-oriented products [as] the cause of increased social problems among our youth. As long as our young people continue to have challenges, people will try to blame outside influences.

As an industry, it is our responsibility to maintain high standards of integrity in order to assist parents in helping to choose quality entertainment for their children. In this way, we can be on the side of parents and politicians, not against them. The bottom line is: Do what is good for kids and there will be nothing to criticize.

Do you have any kids-marketing related resolutions?

To always make sure that we have fun. When you have fun, it shows, and kids are attracted to that creativity.

Debbie Solomon

Senior Partner, Media Research

MindShare USA

New York


Billings: NA

Expertise: Media

Employees: 1,000

What are some issues that you think will explode in the kids marketplace in 2001?

Privacy is really going to be very important. [We’ve seen a push] against online advertising to kids. I think we are going to see efforts to extend that to other media.

Advertising groups feel very strongly, and I see them getting louder this year, especially since we do have COPPA regulations.

I see some of these advocacy groups looking at that as a first step. I don’t think they’re going to succeed, but I see there being a lot of discussion about the whole issue of advertising to kids.

What were the biggest flops of 2000?

Disney’s “Dinosaurs” didn’t take off the way people expected to. And Beanie Babies are completely gone. They have died.

What’s your best advice for success in 2001?

Be responsible to kids and [don’t] take advantage of them.

What’s on your reading list this year?

The $100 Billion Allowance: How to Get Your Share of the Global Teen Market by Elissa Moses and The Handbook of Children and the Media by Dorothy and Jerome Singer.

Sid Good


Good Marketing

Cleveland, Ohio


Billings: NA

Expertise: new product development; consulting in the kids market

Employees: 14

What three issues do you think will explode in 2001?

1. The further proliferation of product and service choices for kids within and beyond existing “kid categories.” Kids have more disposable income and significant influence to purchase. Companies are developing and offering more products and services for kids, [and] retailers continue to see the benefit of reaching out to the kids market, i.e., Limited Too.

2. The growth of new technologies applied to kid products. On average, kids are more adaptable to new technologies than adults. As kids product lines continue to grow, there is greater opportunity for technology to be applied and embraced by kids.

3. Innovative collectibles. Kids will continue to collect. What’s after Pokemon?

What were the greatest successes in kids marketing in 2000?

Harry Potter and scooters.

What were the biggest flops?

Independent bricks-and-mortar non-affiliated e-tailers. Ultimately, e- tailers associated with bricks-and-mortar stores will prevail in the marketplace. The recent partnership of and Toys R Us is a great example of an e-tailer and bricks-and-mortar retailer partnership where each entity leverages what it does best. In the meantime, non-affiliated e-tailers will continue to face an uphill battle for awareness and usage. Non-affiliated e-tailers, especially for kids products, are not a total flop, but surely they have not lived up to the industry’s expectations.

What’s your favorite kids product?

The Giggle Brush [is] a fun new way for kids to brush their teeth. [It’s] a great application of unique play value to a historically boring category for kids. It giggles while you brush. Traditionally, kids toothbrushes have focused on design innovations in the handles. As soon as you pick it up, you lose the value of the product’s point of difference. The Giggle Brush keeps kids entertained as long as they brush.

Paul Kurnit


Griffin Bacal

New York


Billings: $65 Million

Expertise: kids and family, leisure, lifestyle; entertainment

Number of Employees: 80

What three issues do you think will explode in the kids marketplace in 2001?

Nothing will explode in 2001. We will see a continuing progression in several important areas:

1. Technology: Continued integration of technology into play, education, lifestyle, etc. At the same time, as kids become more immersed in technology, kids and parents alike will need and seek compensating high touch experiences with family.

2. Computers and the Internet: For connections to friends and the outside world, for games, homework, shopping, everything on demand, all the time coming into kids rooms and the family room. The issue of privacy and kid protection will become an increasing concern and increasingly regulated.

3. Time famine: Kids are getting more and more programmed, more and more busy, with less and less time for discretionary activity and hanging out. It will lead to increased pressures on kids and attendant meltdowns in diet (obesity and eating disorders), nervous tension and stress and the need for quality people contact and support.

What were some of the greatest successes in kids marketing in 2000?

Music acts – kid stars with major kid impact. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys [are] leading the way into kid entertainment, fashion and lifestyle as young as age 4. They are a reflection of the Kids-Getting-Older-Younger dynamic. They are fashion icons and are fueling tween culture.

Scooters – Led by Razor. From nowhere to over 5 million sold. Kids have been captivated by sleek silver styling and Rollerblade performance.

Harry Potter – a kid and parent phenomenon in books and reading … and we haven’t even begun to see the merchandising muscle flex yet.

How will the Internet influence kids marketing in the next year?

Not much. It’s still early. Without rich media and bandwidth, marketing to kids on the Internet pales [next to]hot TV commercials and colorful print ads. Banners and sponsorships are OK. Branded Web sites provide brand relationship touchstones and product catalogs kids care about. But we won’t see a quantum leap in Internet creativity reaching kids in 2001.

Kids shopping online will increase, but no “ellowance” mechanism has gotten any traction yet and several have already gone out of business. So, the online transaction will continue to be kids yelling, “Mom, can I buy this?” and, “what’s your Visa card number?”

What’s your personal favorite kids product and why?

Razor Scooter, because it came out of nowhere and took American kid culture by storm. It represents a new paradigm product based on classics. It is a testament to the shifting, creative and unpredictable nature of the youth market. It humbles marketers and inspires us to think twice before passing on the next elusive phenomenon that breaks the rules (i.e.Cabbage Patch Kids, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers). Kids “vote” for what they like in ways that continually defy us experts.

Dave Siegel


Wonder Group



Billings: NA

Expertise: new product development, advertising; kids marketing consulting

Employees: 25

Name one of the biggest flops of 2000.

Although “Star Wars” launched last year, its effect on this year’s business makes me rank it among the problems of 2000. While sales in 1999 were more than reasonable, they were still so far below goals that too many companies were hurt holding too much inventory into this year. Hasbro was an unfortunate victim of this.

Pokemon softness also caused this to be considered a bit of a flop this year.

And, of course, all of those space movie licensed properties – like “Mission to Mars,” “Titan AE,” and “Red Planet” – spaced out!

What was one of 2000’s greatest marketing successes?

The number one success, even before it hit the shelves, was Heinz Green Ketchup. The PR on this product launch has been phenomenal, and its effect on the investment community and the overall press has been sensational.

I understand that it already exceeded its first year’s volume goals within the first few months. The fact that a relatively conservative company can create excitement in a very stodgy category by marketing to kids is something all marketers should take note of.

The second huge success in my opinion has been Scooters – enough said!

What properties are going to be hot in 2001?

Harry Potter is too magical to miss. Also, PlayStation 2 will have a very major impact on the entire kids market.

What research topics will your firm tackle in the near future?

Together with our partner, KidzEyes, a national online panel of thousands of kids, we will continue to research kid trends as they develop throughout the year. Also, since we do quite a bit of consulting for many different packaged goods companies, I am certain that we will be doing some custom research on how kids relate to various product categories that would prove important for our clients.

What are the most important marketing principles for a kids marketer to focus on in today’s environment?

The most important principle is to make sure you stay in touch with today’s kids. Pre-test and seek their advice whenever possible. Kids today have so many different experiences than we do, and all of these experiences affect how they think.

What’s your personal favorite kids product?

My scooter.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Phillips Publishing International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group