Talking to Kids

13 Apr 2006|Added Value

Conventional wisdom has held that kid and tween focus groups are often of limited value (for any number of reasons including kids’ tendencies to say what they think the moderator wants to hear, group dynamics, concrete thinking that makes abstraction or projection near impossible, etc.). I recently had a chance to test this theory at the IIR Youth Marketing Mega-Event in Huntington Beach. (

Every year, this conference offers attendees the opportunity to observe a live focus group among their choice of teens, tweens or kids under 10. We were asked to step in on relatively short notice to take over one of the focus groups when the kids’ group moderator became unexpectedly unavailable. It was a great opportunity to be a presenter at a prestigious conference so I gamely signed up, despite some trepidation over the format of the presentation.

We took some measures to avoid the most obvious pitfalls. We had the kids sit on cushions on the floor in a semi-circle (not facing the audience so there’d be no intimidating eye contact). We sat their parents within eyesight but not so close to the stage that they might try to engage in conversation. We had the kids bring their favorite toys, and sat them next to friends or siblings (all of the kids came with one).

We did get some fascinating learnings, albeit more of an A&U nature than the deep insights we typically strive to obtain through qualitative research. These kids are wired – half had cell-phones (and this being Southern California, they’re using them in novel ways – one six-year old told me she uses her cell phone to play tricks on her mom – “I pretend to be my agent and tell her we have an audition in the morning”); all had at least one gaming console (two of them had four systems), several have cable TV in their bedrooms and most watch American Idol. They love characters like Kim Possible and Hannah Montana, who reassure them that it’s not just the cool kids who can save the world, or become famous. But clearly there’s no way to know whether this is at all representative of kids today (and given the location it probably isn’t), and there was no way to probe deeper or ladder up to higher-level emotions when kids were interrupting each other, popping off stage to go to the bathroom unannounced, or bursting into tears from stagefright.

If I get invited back next year (and I hope I do – it’s a great conference and a lot of fun) I think I’ll try to convince the organizers to let me run this a little differently – maybe we’ll observe the kids engaging in an activity and we’ll do some insightful commentary, or we’ll have them do a pre-assignment that helps draw out insights, and we’ll talk about that. I’m sure there’s a way to derive real learnings from getting kids together in front of an audience – but my experience definitely confirmed the hypothesis that focus groups among kids this age don’t generally deliver them.

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