Television Voting Contains Valuable Lessons For Market Researchers

In my latest MediaPost column, I propose that television voting contains some key lessons for the market research industry, especially the practice of luring respondents. And what better example than American Idol? There is some passionate discussion at the MediaPost blog.

Sanjaya, The Next American Idol? Vote Here 

April 6th, 2007 by Max Kalehoff

In case you’ve been under a rock, a new star was born. His name is Sanjaya.

Who? Sanjaya Malakar, the “American Idol” contestant who can’t seem to get eliminated from the reality-television singing competition, where viewers vote for the best. Despite a voice far from stellar, his enthusiastic showmanship and charismatic smile have driven him through rounds of Simon Cowell scrutiny.

Well, maybe the “high-integrity democratic voting system” — you know, to keep the reality television programming “real” — was compromised by unnatural forces. For example, did the anti-Idol Web site,, have anything to do with his popularity over other, better singers? Or did Howard Stern’s “Vote For Sanjaya” campaign contribute to the seemingly unnatural rise? Or was it a secret Indian call center?

Whatever the case, the untalented Sanjaya is driving intrigue, laughter, voyeurism, guilty pleasure, skepticism, controversy and certainly ratings. The blogosphere has even been sucked in, with his recent daily buzz levels even exceeding Britney’s! Heck, I’ve even been sucked in!

As someone who works in market research, I’m fascinated by pop-culture storms such as this, and especially when passionate voting and metrics play a huge role. In this case, those metrics come in the form of viewer ratings, blog buzz, news coverage and actual contestant votes. The show hosts, contestants, audience and metrics are all playing off one another and creating irresistible tension. It’s beginning to feel a little like the 2000 presidential election crisis, and the benefits and flaws of the democratic system are surfacing in a big way.

But on a serious note, the infatuation with television voting actually contains an important message for the market and media research industry. Especially the surveying and polling side, which is very much challenged by do-not-call lists, do-not-mail lists, spam blockers, survey saturation, elusive consumers and a general decline in respondent participation.

Putting aside the circus halo that surrounds “Idol,” the fact is the show has demonstrated that it is very possible to get people passionate and excited about voting and participating in polls. Consider that many “Idol” voters — those who participate via text-message — are paying dearly (or their parents are)!

As is the case with “Idol,” the real issue in the survey and polling world is not one of declining response rates, but the ability to be attractive, relevant and even entertaining to those stakeholders with whom you’re seeking information. Just as advertising must strive harder to cut through the clutter and win over the valuable time and attention of prospects, so must market research.

So please take my two-question poll. It’s quick, easy and hopefully relevant:

Most important, will Sanjaya be the next “American Idol”? Second, as a consumer, what would make participating in market research more compelling for you?

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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