the source of lies, damned lies, and statistics

As a Canadian blogger, you have been identified as a participant in a short survey to gain a better understanding of the Canadian blogging environment, as well as to gain your perspective on some of the products you purchased recently. Your opinion is important to us and you will be eligible to receive free products and coupons upon completion of this survey.

That was the opening paragraph of an e-mail I received yesterday. Normally for such things I just click the Report spam button, but I had just read Rude Cactus's most recent post (30 March entry) about doing product reviews on blogs, so I decided to click on the link and see what they wanted to know about Canadian bloggers.

The first thing they wanted to know was what age range I was in (35-44 in case you were wondering). The second thing they wanted to know was my gender. I love messing with survey results as much as the next person, but I was honest this time and put "female."

The page after that had a series of topics listed and asked me to rate how often I blogged about them. The topics were all what I would call "whitebread mainstream" -- celebrities, sports, fashion, things like that. The sort of stuff you see on the covers of magazines at the grocery checkout.

Anyone who's read more than one entry on this blog knows that the only topic I could honestly say I wrote about "frequently" was "Other." The next most-frequent topic I could honestly say I've written about is "technology." Most of the rest of them I had to say "never" to.

Okay, so far, so good. I'm well used to checking the "Other" box on surveys. But then things got strange. Or, if not strange exactly, pathetic.

I got asked which of a list of six fashion magazines I bought, and how often (none, less than once per year).

I got asked what brands of shampoo I had tried in the last twelve months (the cheapest one that won't dry out my hair — surprisingly, it was actually on the list).

I got asked what brand of soap I used (that time I had to put "Other").

I got asked about how I learn about new beauty products.

I have two reactions to the above.

One: I am more than the sum of my demographics. Yes, I do wear makeup, perfume, jewelry. But when it comes to my blog, I have other things on my mind. I just don't think keeping clean and being well-groomed should be things that require a lot of thought.

Two: I was very curious as to what men were getting asked about. Fortunately, I have two blogs, so I got two survey links. I also have two machines I can get to the interwebs on, so I could dodge any cleverness the surveyors might have implemented to make sure people didn't double-answer (although to me the questions were less about statistics and more about recruiting).

So I booted up my laptop, clicked on the other survey link, and answered everything the same except for the gender. For once, the questions were exactly the same. Hey, maybe the company who commissioned the survey makes toiletry products. Or maybe they were just worried about getting to their target demographic so much they didn't care what anyone else thought. As a, um, non-fashion-magazine-reading woman it annoyed me, but maybe most men would just mutter "serves me right for taking a survey" before moving on. What do you think?

My take: I know a common marketing mantra is "if they're talking about it, it's a good thing," but I'm not sure how much having people blog "I review computer software on my blog and they asked me about what freaking shampoo I use," is going to attract market share.