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Research War Stories: Extremely concerned about maintaining anonymity...

In the popular War Stories column, which has run sporadically in Quirk's since 1994, Art Shulman, president of Shulman Research in Van Nuys, Calif., presents humorous tales of life in the research trenches, based on his own experiences and those of researcher friends and colleagues. Each month in our e-newsletter we feature a few anecdotes from past War Stories columns.

Ken Hollander remembers the time his firm was retained by a very large computer hardware manufacturer to conduct user research. The client seemed extremely concerned about maintaining anonymity. His firm had to sign a non-disclosure agreement and was visited by a member of the client' s security department, who not only checked locked closets and files, but looked into their windows with high-powered binoculars from the roof of an adjoining building to ensure that no competitive spy could read materials on the desktops.
Having passed these stringent tests, Hollander's firm proceeded to brief the field service, stressing the need for extremely high security. The study designed was double-blinded so that no one (including the field service) would know the identity of the company sponsoring the research.
Shortly thereafter a delivery truck pulled up to the field service with the client's name and logo emblazoned on its sides. Two of its employees, wearing company uniforms, then entered the facility to deliver, in clearly marked boxes, the hardware to be tested.
So much for the security of the client's identity.

Art Shulman recalls conducting focus groups with girls ages 6 to 8 about a new toy called Showtime Stables. One of the objectives was to determine the extent to which the product's commercial was noticeable in a clutter reel of commercials. When he told the hostess, who was unaware of the test product, that they were ready to begin, she went to the lobby where the kids were waiting and announced, "OK, ladies, it's showtime."

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