Viewpoint -- Survey Says: Duh!

Feb. 3, 2006
Some polls and reports state the painfully obvious. Others just offer silly information.

I am about to bite the hand that feeds me, but for good reason.

You see, sometimes journalists scour press releases to find a nugget of information that they can use to round out their stories. For the most part, press releases offer a jumping off point to where a writer can either call the source of the press release themselves to get even more information, or if the information is presented in a fact-based fashion, a writer can insert a quote or metric into their copy and attribute where the information came from.

But in an attempt to get a quote placed or a metric mentioned, some companies inundate the field with nonsense.

On any given day you can find dozens upon dozens of "Reports," "Surveys," or "Studies" that say absolutely nothing new.

For example, a recent survey from the American Consumer Institute states, "American Consumers Want Faster, Safer and More Reliable Internet Services."


I don't know about you, but given a choice between a slow, unscrupulous and spotty Internet service or a fast, safe and reliable one - I'd choose the latter. Why did they need a survey of 1,000 households to figure this out? But believe it or not, only 84% of online households would choose the better option. So I guess there are 160 households that don't mind wasting time waiting for their e-mail to download -- and they certainly don't care if the contents of the e-mail can be read by every Web voyeur in cyberspace.

Another research gem finds that the "Popularity of Indoor Tanning Contributes to Increased Incidence of Skin Cancer."

Hmmm. . . sounds right to me -- but isn't that obvious? To the credit of the press release's source, American Academy of Dermatology, the information in the release talks more about folks thinking that indoor tanning is safer than old-fashioned sun tanning. My question: Why not reflect that in the headline?

Let me put on my Yellow Journalist hat and give it a go: "Ignorance of Indoor Tanning Peril Kills."

For some demographics providers, stating the obvious is an art form.

According to comSource Media Metrix, an Internet audience measurement service, "Holiday-Related Content Drove December Web Activity."

I bet if we polled those 1,000 households that commented on their Internet service and asked them to predict what would be the biggest driver of Web activity in December we could come up with the same conclusion that comSource did.

Again, to the source's credit I have and probably will continue to use their data. Aside from the silly headline, the company does offer insightful information.

Now on to the "What Were They Thinking" surveys.

According to a Ford Fusion "Life In Drive" Dating Survey -- I probably don't have to go much further than this, but I can't help myself -- "Car 'Key' to Impressing a First Date."

Call me crazy, but if my husband would have picked me up on his Schwinn 10-Speed for our first date, I doubt there would have been a second date. Aside from the fact that my bottom would not fit on the handlebars, it's down right rude to pick up a date in anything but a motorized vehicle. Unless of course it's a horse-drawn carriage or something equally romantic.

What the survey meant to say was what "kind" of car is key to impressing a first date. Essentially, Ford is playing on people's insecurities in order to sell its Ford Fusion sedans.

Another company looking to increase sales by presenting skewed survey data is the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA).

The latest HPBA survey shows "More Americans are Grilling Year-Round -- Even on Valentine's Day."

You know, I wondered about that. Just last week I saw my neighbor pull steaks out of the snowbank by his house and toss them on the grill. I thought, "I wonder if more Americans are doing the same?" Now I know. I also know that "grilling is not just for the boys." Finally, there is equality. Who knew that all of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton's work would finally be substantiated in front of an outdoor grill!

I just worry about those 160 households that thrive on slow Internet service -- do they even have time to grill?

Traci Purdum is an IndustryWeek associate editor. She is based in Cleveland.

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