Postscript

I Went to a Guardian Marketing Study
After signing up for a contest listed in the San Francisco Bay Guardian's personals section -- the winner would get a trip to Paris -- I wasn't too surprised to be asked to participate in a marketing study. The study, which revolved around a new Internet service called socialnet.com, was being conducted by the research firm of Ecker & Associates.

If I agreed to participate, I'd be given $50 in cash. The whole process would take just half an hour of my time. From then on, I could tell people I'd earned $100/hour. And there were other benefits.

As a single female with an interest in meeting people, I was delighted to offer my views on how this could be done better on the Internet. Also, participating in the study would allow me to help not only the Guardian and its Web publication, but also the numerous other Web sites that would be subscribing to socialnet.com, rather than coming up with their own programs and ideas for putting personal ads online. And finally, I'd get some scoops on what the industry was planning in the way of online personal advertising, giving me fodder with which to impress my Webheaded friends and superiors at work.

I was in.

Just outside the elevator, on the third floor of a building in the Financial District, I find a waiting room with a small desk, from which a couple of student types oversee a crowd of marketing-study rats waiting to be interviewed and slipped a 50. Behind the desk is a bank of about 20 TVs, playing what look like live feeds of interviews taking place in different rooms. This place is wired.

I'm offered refreshments. Of a sort. Rock-hard cookies, tap water, off-brand M&M's on a napkin. A lady comes out and takes me to an interrogation room. I'm starting to feel trapped; a memory of being busted for shoplifting as a teen comes to me. I notice the lady needs to have her teeth scraped. I'm wondering if it was the cookies. I put mine down.

The lady quickly explains that we're being audiotaped, and that if she rushes me along, it's because she's in a hurry. And oh, she mentions, there are a few people behind the mirrored wall, watching. I find myself wondering if Bruce B. Brugmann himself is in there, or if socialnet.com is covering this end of things, so Bruce can tend to his utility conspiracies.

The lady breaks out some presentation boards. The boards contain logos for socialnet.com. She shows the logos to me, one after another. Logo after logo after logo, each of which looks the same, except for a little different dot here, or a vaguely different color there. It's as if I'm in grade school again, looking at those damn cartoons in the Weekly Reader that put two pictures, side by side, and tell you to circle the six small differences between them.

I roll my eyes, and as I'm looking up, I notice a video camera. I ask if we're also being videotaped. The lady admits the taping, but assures me this video record will only be used to make sure she got my answers right.

The lady goes on showing me logos and variations of logos. Suddenly, it is very clear: This ain't no marketing study; it's a friggin' eye exam. "This is Logo A. This is Logo B. This is Logo AB. Which do you like better? How are they different?"

Now I'm feeling angst. The angst you might feel if you were getting an eye exam by an angry optometrist who was in a big hurry. I don't see much difference between or among logos. I think all of the logos suck. I should know. I'm in marketing. I should be able to discern whatever she thinks the differences are. There are no real differences.

The logo upon which these minute variations are being played shows a little red guy playing kickball with the dot before the com in socialnet.com. I say the logo looks "sporty." The lady seems very disappointed, so I tell her the logo is nice. It's active-looking, I say. She's quiet. Then I think maybe she designed the logos, and I've hurt her feelings. She continues showing me more logos. I lose count.

During this study, there are no questions about what I'd like from the service to be provided by socialnet.com, who I am, or why I agreed to participate. No queries about what dating services I've used and loved or hated. Just boring logo after boring look-alike logo.

It seems confusing to the logo lady when I mention that it is weird to have a single stick figure in the logo, when the logo is supposed to represent a cyberspace meeting place. Or is it a meeting place?

She turns the question back on me: "What do you think it is?" I don't know. From the logo, it looks kind of like stickdeath.com, one of my favorite Web sites. I find myself thinking, I hope they sue your uninspired asses for boring-logo infringement. But I don't say anything like that, because my 30 minutes are up.

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