MVBMS Adopts Regular Family in Upstate N.Y.

Consider it Focus Group Version 2.0.

Nearly two years ago, Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners turned the quiet town of Kingston, N.Y., into its ongoing test site, selecting 10 middle-class families in the area to serve as “viewfinders” as part of the “Everyday People” research program. Now, the success of the initiative—which allows the Havas agency’s planners to see how ordinary people use and feel about clients’ products—has led to a scheduled rollout in Laredo, Texas, and Birmingham, Mich., during the next two months, with plans to go global in the future.

“It wasn’t worth it to do the usual focus group,” said Marian Salzman, chief strategy officer of Euro RSCG Worldwide. “We felt there was a need to find something more real and intimate with consumers. Kingston, N.Y., seemed like the perfect place to start.”

So far, the views of these families have influenced the advertising of clients Reckitt-Benckiser—which is developing a dozen new cleaning products as a result of these interactions—and Polaroid, which based some spots on comments about ways to take pictures and display them. In addition, former client Subway has used such opinions as the basis for ads.

“When we first saw Everyday People during the pitch, it gave us the confidence that we were talking to an agency that is close to the consumer,” said Anish Gupta, director, strategic support services at Reckitt. “By its very nature, it is rare for a particular advertisement or a particular promotion to spring directly from this research. However, it influences a lot of decisions, both creative as well as in the area of new-product development.”

Many of the new products are a direct result of the feedback from families like the Wenzels. Last year, the Wenzels and their neighbors, when asked about their eating habits, said they wished more fast-food places would offer low-carb choices. The answers helped to provide the foundation for commercials for Subway.

“One the earliest sessions we did was for Subway, and a neighbor who participated with us said, ‘Did you see the new Subway commercial? They’re using our words [about how we felt about low-carb offerings]!’ ” said participant Charlet Wenzel, a real-estate broker and mother of two girls. “It’s almost like being on a reality show.”

The agency’s goal is to have an ongoing conversation about people’s lives (such as how 9/11 affected them) as well as about products (what brands they trust and why) that could lead to long-term product testing.

Located in the Hudson River Valley, Kingston, with a population of 23,400, was deemed far enough from New York City so as to avoid the “bedroom-community” label, Salzman said. With the racial distribution (80.4 percent white, 12.8 percent African American and 1.5 percent Asian) and economic breakdown (the median home sale price in May 2002 was $144,500), Kingston is, to MVBMS, a microcosm of the U.S.