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Lie Witness News and the Validity of Market Research

April 24, 2013

JKL LWNI both love and hate the feature on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show that is called “Lie Witness News”.

In this first clip the interviewer asks questions related to the presidential inauguration and in this second clip she asks questions related to the Oscars. People “on-the-street” answer the interviewer’s questions about these events, decisively respond to her probes and also add elaborate detail. However, the questions were asked days before these two events actually happened. In other words, the people in these videos are completely making it up.

The ridiculous nature of the interviewer’s probes makes for good entertainment but leaves me somewhat incredulous regarding the outrageous lies these folks are telling. I wonder how many times a participant in one of my studies was acting similarly. I feel horrified while witnessing the power of a well-executed leading question that would be totally inappropriate for real market research. In the extreme I wonder about the validity of the whole model of interviewing respondents or even worse, conducting groups with participants and relying on what they say.

Now… to be fair, there is a lot I don’t know about how these interviews are conducted. One would suspect that folks are selected based on their likelihood to  respond inappropriately and encouraged to behave outrageously since they are generating footage for entertainment, not data for market research. I also wonder about the incidence of folks who respond by lying and agreeing with everything the interviewer says. How many interviews do you think they have to conduct to get the 5-10 clips that they include in a single segment of the show? If, like me, you basically trust human beings to be truthful, you would hope that the incidence of outrageous clips  is lower, rather than higher. (I asked a question about this through the shows website, and if I get an answer I will report it.)

I chose the above two clips because they do show the flip side of this entertainment stunt. In the first clip a woman admits that she is lying and just going along with everything the interviewer says. In the second someone responds accurately that the Oscars have not yet happened and despite being drunk, sticks to her story.

Ultimately, I am not really worried about the participants in my studies behaving similar to those in these two videos. However, watching Lie Witness News makes me even more aware of the importance of following basic market research principles such as properly setting up a group or interview, avoiding direct and leading questions, and examining data in a discriminating manner that draws inferences more than relying only on what people say.

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