Paranoia, Lying and the Unwanted Respondent

Clients continue to want to ask people if they are a member of certain, unwelcome groups at the beginning of surveys so that they can exclude them. If you or someone in your family works in market research, advertising, or marketing, chances are, your participation is not welcome.

The practice of screening out people based on their association with marketing, research or advertising is simply outdated and based on a romantic idea of market research.

What People Will Tell You When They Want to Exclude

Clients focus on two things when advocating for this question.

First> people in these groups are somehow different from he average member of the public so they will think about the subject matter (e.g. a new concept, or an advertisement) differently and give results based on this experience. Perhaps, but excluding a small percentage of people based on this concern is unrealistic.

Second> that people in these groups will learn something about my organizations plans or issues based on the questions (and even creative in some circumstances) that we ask.  And, of course, the fear is that they will tell others about it.

The reality is that conducting market research is not a spy mission. Treated like such and you will not get the answers you need. And, any learning that comes from the survey questions (and not the answers) is circumspect.

Realistically, What Happens Is….

People in the excluded groups tell lies. That is, if they are interested enough to complete the survey. Alternatively, lots of people not in the excluded groups see the question (and the quite obvious implication) as a way out of a survey they are not interested in completing.

Many years ago we could ask someone in the public a question and assume that they would not know what the questions purpose was…. today that is a questionable assumption given the number of surveys we conduct with respondents each year.

Getting a sample of people to complete a survey is getting harder and harder so asking even one unnecessary question at the beginning is very unwise. This is one question that needs to be forever banished.

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About Richard Jenkins

Market research professional and small business owner

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3 Comments on “Paranoia, Lying and the Unwanted Respondent”

  1. AJames Says:

    Since my husband does work in the field, sometimes I answer yes and sometimes I answer no. It depends if I feel like answering the survey. I wonder if others, just answer yes as a way to getting out of answering a survey. We’ve certainly been trained to know if we say yes to the screening question–the response is thank you and have a nice day.


  2. Rick Hobbs Says:

    I have often wondered myself, and usually I include people who work within the industry because i want their views. Who better to comment on a piece of advertising than an advertising exec? Will they lie? Perhaps, but then they would already lie at screener so this way you at least have a chance of measuring who is doing your survey. I am currently working on an industry specific problem and the client wants industry participants screened out and I am having a devil of time creating a screener that can identify individuals from this niche…… without giving away to everyone right of the bat that the survey is about this niche. Imagine, Do you work in this highly specialized and infrequent niche, but don’t worry because the survey is definitely not about this niche so don’t bring any preconceived ideas about this niche into the next question if you say no.
    Thanks Richard!


  3. Richard Jenkins Says:

    So true. If it was an infrequent niche I would just screen them out later based on a question at the end (that is unless the client does not want them to know about the survey) Ha.


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