Naked Truth Meets Market Research
Perfecting a New Shower Head? Try Watching People Shower.
By Dina ElBoghdady
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 24, 2002; Page H01
Suds dripping down his face, the government worker mumbles in the shower, his eyes shut, his lips in
The people in his living room can't hear him. But they see his video image flickering on their black-and-
white screen and make a mental note: Who is he talking to?
God, it turns out.
"I am in my own little world when I shower," the government worker, 52, later reveals. "I meditate. I pray."
The social worker keeps turning the taps in her shower. Back and forth, back and forth. Two or three
people watch and scribble into notepads: Why is she doing that?
"I try to run [the water] on the sore spot," the social worker, 32, later tells her viewers. "I make it as hot as I
can and then as cold as I can. I want the heat to get to it."
Absorbing every little quirk in the shower was a cluster of researchers from QualiData Research Inc. in
New York. The voyeuristic exercise was not unusual. A growing number of companies regularly watch us
use the most prosaic of products: diapers, computers, disposable cameras and, in this case, shower heads.
The observations should spark ideas for new or improved merchandise, clever advertising campaigns,
better services or all the above. Or so the companies hope.
That's why Moen Inc., part of Fortune Brands Inc. (formerly American Brands), embarked on a deep dig
into the consumer psyche as it developed a new massaging shower head, the Revolution, which has been in
stores since August.
"In the '50s it was the sunken living room," said Hy Mariampolski, QualiData's founder. "In the '70s it was
the party deck. Now it seems to be the shower that's on the frontier of lifestyle extravagance."
Mariampolski, a sociologist by training, is not your traditional market researcher.
Neither was the legendary Al Moen. He invented the first single-handle faucet, but he stumbled on the idea
by chance. While in college, Moen worked at a repair garage in Seattle to earn tuition money. As he
cleaned up one day, a sudden burst of hot water from the old-fashioned two-handle faucet scalded his
Eureka! A flash of genius, a product is born. That was back in 1937, though it was a decade before a
company bought his technology and brought it to market.
Al Moen had no research to go on, just his own intuition and life experience.
But these days, companies eager to leapfrog ahead of the competition spend big bucks in search of the life
experience that will lead them to the next big thing. Many do it through "observational research."
"It's a technique that gives irrevocable cues beyond what people say they want and need into what they
really want and need," said Ralph Oliva, a marketing professor at the Smeal College of Business at Penn
State. "It can be very telling in certain situations."
This is what it told Jack Suvak, Moen's marketing research director: Showering is not just about lather and