By Anita Garner
My favorite toddler arrived for a visit, packing her portable DVD player and a stack of choices. Among the titles,
Barbie Mariposa And Her Butterfly Fairy Friends
Where the heck did that title come from? A visit to a Toddler Focus Group may shed some light.
In the room with a one-way window, the table and chairs have been removed. Twelve toddlers sit on the floor. They’ll help marketing executives and manufacturers name a new product. No adults are allowed in. Parents join executives looking through the glass and see that all toddlers have the perfect tool for making choices. Each holds onto a remote with big colorful buttons. Toddlers completely understand remotes. They can delete anything within seconds.
A voice through speakers in the room coaxes the little ones to push buttons. Do you like butterflies? They push the butterfly button. Do you like fairies? And on through a series of questions that correspond with pictures on the remote.
Oops – some of our toddlers appear to be trying to push the buttons on a neighbor’s remote, but a few are still listening.
Do you like Barbie? Yes. How about friends? That gets the biggest reaction so far. Preschool and play-dates have already taught them that friends are the best new things of all. They quickly push the button with the colorful outline of children holding hands.
Wait now. The group is drifting. Only three toddlers are still interested in the remotes. The rest wander around, poking each other, getting acquainted.
The voice continues to ask about magic toddler words, but all order has been lost and at the end of a session that only lasted five minutes but seemed to go on forever, advertising people string together a bunch of words and declare this new DVD title will contain several things kids seem to like. (How did “Mariposa” get in there? I’m not sure. I haven’t watched it yet.) What does the title mean? No one knows. And does it matter, really?
One very smart executive/parent asks shouldn’t we add ladybugs? Toddlers like ladybugs even more than new friends. Oh, all right then, maybe next time. In fact let’s commission a script right now that includes the words Barbie and Ladybugs.
Parents are allowed in. A few toddlers run to them, while others act as if they’ve never seen these adults before, and continue what they were doing. Somebody finds a Goldfish cracker in his mommy’s purse. Now everybody wants one, but there aren’t any more. Crying begins. Another parent produces Cheerios from a baggie that will be carried everywhere until the toddler starts college. All are pacified with the wholegrain O’s.
While the munching toddlers say goodbye or ignore each other, let’s consider a point that focus groups need to spend more time with. What kinds of toys do grandparents want?
Here’s the Grandparent Focus Group. Table and chairs are restored and a variety of diet and regular colas, coffee, decaf, and teas in all kinds of flavors are offered. Treats are on a side table. Some of the grandparents choose M & M’s while others go for the nutrition bars. New toys to be tested are on the table.
The voice in the speaker asks, “Does the ratchety-ratchety sound of this toy lawnmower seem authentic to you?”
It does and is that absolutely necessary?
“How about the humming noise on this pretend-vacuum cleaner?”
That is way too realistic. Here’s an idea. How about you make this toy with a grandparent control, an invisible one I can push from way over here so the toddler can’t see it? When a complaint arises from the shorter person in the room, I am prepared to lie.
No, honey, I have no idea why your toy stopped working just now.
Question from the Market Research team:
“How about this pretend-cellphone/camera that rings and also makes a loud clicking sound when the toddler puts it right in your face?”
A hidden on/off switch would be good. I’m prepared to look surprised.
Oh, your cellphone won’t ring anymore? Really? I’m sure the camera still works, honey. It probably doesn’t feel like clicking every single time.
And what of the sad little toddler face?
Darned cellphone. Here, give it to Hammy. I’ll fix it later. Let’s go eat some strawberries.