How Chevrolet is Destroying Focus Groups

Although I am all for television commercials that embrace and build awareness for marketing research among the general public, I do take particular offense with the new Chevrolet campaign. The television commercials are designed to entertain in an effort to go viral rather than be a true depiction of the benefits and reality of what a productive focus group looks like. If you haven't seen any of the Chevy "focus group" advertisements yet, here is a screen cap from the commercial campaigns.

How Chevrolet is Destroying Focus Groups


When assessing the issues I have with these focus groups as a marketing research purist, I struggle on where to begin (or end for that matter.) But here are a few top-of-mind problems with the Chevy focus group commercials:

First off, the intent of focus groups is to gather research.

Not to prove a point. Not to persuade participants. And definitely not to sell. This cardinal sin of sugging (selling under the guise of market research) is a violation of the MRA Code of Marketing Research Standards, and is in violation of federal law (e.g., the FTC Act, or the Telemarketing Sales Rule.) Besides, recruiting unbeknownst research participants and then blatantly trying to pitch them a product is just morally wrong.

These focus groups are laughably designed.

I'd love to take a look at the theoretical moderator's guide for these focus groups. Keep in mind, a moderator's guide is a key piece to a quality focus group project. It guides the group, guides the insights, and guides the unbiased outcomes of the market research. Essentially the moderator's guide for these Chevy focus groups could look something like this below. How is this unbiased research?

  • Participant sits down.
  • Moderator asks participant if he/she needs an umbrella?
  • Participant says "no."
  • Moderator dumps a bucket of water on the participant and holds a 2nd bucket above his/her head.
  • Moderator asks participant if he/she needs an umbrella now?
  • Participant says "yes."
  • End focus group.
  • Moderator concludes umbrella received a "10" likelihood to purchase on a 0 to 10 scale.

Make the respondents comfortable.

In focus groups, a good moderator knows the quicker you can make the participants feel at-home, feel comfortable, and get settled, the quicker to you get them to volunteer critical insights. Participants are undoubtedly nervous when entering a focus group setting. They are oftentimes skeptical and typically the one-way mirror and/or client viewers do not help. Yet, inste​ad of trying to settle the participants, the Chevy moderator does that exact opposite from distractions, to clowns, to throwing eggs at them as they enter, to serving their cell phone into a wood chipper. I'm serious.


​A general norm and guiding principle in market research is the promise of confidentiality to participants. Survey respondents and focus group participants are not meant to be glorified and featured on television commercials. If focus group participants even consider that the session may end up on television, chances are they will not be themselves during the focus group. Anything inauthentic is discouraged and measures are typically taken to prevent this in marketing research instead of promoting it.

Halo Effect.

If Chevy truly wanted to test the validity and appeal of features such as hands-free texting, proactive diagnostics, and advanced safety technology it's a given that brand should be removed from the equation. Preconceptions of Chevy, Ford, or any other manufacturer will undoubtedly impact ratings of these features when they are showed in association with Chevy models. Essentially it's like asking how appealing is a Fenway Frank to Yankees fans instead of asking how appealing is a hot dog at a baseball game. The association and brand will wreak havoc on your data. First ask the appeal of the features themselves. Then associate the features with a variety of brands. It will allow Chevy to conclude if the appeal ratings are driven by features and/or brand. Pun intended.

Unfortunately, I still cringe every time I see one of these advertisements pop up on television. I don't expect this feeling to subside quickly and perhaps I should consider a Part 2 to this post for Chevrolet. There's plenty more. This was written by George Kuhn, Owner & President of Drive Research, a market research company located in Syracuse, NY.

Focus Groups