Tuesdays with Marty


By Saul Katz, Creative Director, Copy

Marty sits in a doctor’s office waiting room. He holds my patient brochure in his hands, absentmindedly thumbing through the pages. A phone battery on four percent is the only reason I have his attention at all. My written words don’t even register as his mind drifts away to other problems. He puts my brochure back in the stand upside down. On the end table next to Marty’s chair sits my magazine coverwrap and my easel-backed savings card offer, all with the same image of a portly man holding an insulin pen. “How much did that grinning fool get paid?” Marty wonders as he closes his eyes. He could be taking a nap right now if the TV wasn’t blaring my commercial so damn loud.

I wish I knew my audience a little better than I do. There is a lot of separation between us. Layers and layers of marketers, and lawyers, and more marketers. I never meet my audience. Yet I am tasked with getting inside their heads.

The closest I come to interacting with them is market research. The artificial environment where real opinions are sought. Because everyone watches a TV commercial and then immediately answers fifty questions about what they just saw. “Would you ask your doctor for this medication?” Yes, of course you would. We just spent the last hour discussing every facet of it.

Can they see the glow of my computer screen through the one-way mirror? Can they see me munching on peanut M&M’S while they open up to the moderator about their struggle with sweets? Can they hear us making assumptions about their diligence and self-control based on an A1C number next to their name on a spreadsheet?

I hope not.

But then, a short time ago, I got to visit my audience in their homes. I sat in their living rooms and talked to them face-to-face. A different kind of market research. In-home immersions, they call it.

Marty is a grandpa in Texas who tells me stories of working in the oil business for 30 years. Marty looks down at the carpet as she laments her teenage son and his struggles with heroin last year. Marty is a retired professor in New Jersey who talks of taking long walks around her subdivision with her husband and their Lhasa/Terrier mix. Marty is a father of 3 who brightens when he talks about his favorite TV shows. He asks me why they cancel all the good ones. I wonder that myself.

Marty is not one person, but an amalgamation of thousands.

Actual conversations with my target audience. No police-interrogation one-way mirror to hide me. No research stimuli. No preplanned questions. I sit on their couch. A Lhasa/Terrier mix eats treats from my hand. I talk to the person, not the disease. We talk about life. We barely mention diabetes. And, more importantly, I read between the lines. Because it’s not just what my audience says that interests me. I also want to know what they think.

I quickly get a reality check. Turns out, my audience doesn’t think about their health as much as I think about their health. They would rather think about work, or vacations, or grandkids. Their health runs a distant second, third, or twentieth. In that way, they’re not much different from me.

Marty has a sweet tooth and thinks the gym is for someone much younger than him. Marty lives in the new normal, where her best days are behind her.

I didn’t realize how much face-to-face conversation would influence me. Or my work. My product insights weren’t coming from a research report from a third-party vendor. My product insights were coming in a Texas drawl from a grandfather who told me his story firsthand. And that story stuck.

In advertising, the cavern is so wide between the person creating an ad and the person consuming an ad. It’s nice to close that gap, even for a little while.

We are not advertisers. We are students of behavior. As students of behavior, we should do our best to get out of our agency tower. We should really be in the mist.

The concept of in-home immersions as part of market research is probably not new. But it was new to me. Short of talking to my relatives who have diabetes, I currently have no other avenue for finding out what people with this condition are really thinking. And I am someone who needs to know.

Marty is an engineer who can solve any problem but his health. Marty spends too much time doting on her children, so she can ignore taking care of herself.

I have cause to be forgiving. Diabetes is not some far-off disease. It runs rampant in my family. It has affected my mom and dad, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins galore. Maybe it’s only a matter of time before it reaches me.

As I get older, am I going to care less about my health? As my diet slides down that slippery slope…as my workouts dwindle down, from three days a week to three days a month to once every winter solstice…will my A1C creep over the point of no return?

I have a feeling it won’t be terribly long before I am Marty. Perhaps I will be on the other side of the one-way mirror. Perhaps I will have some fun with it.

“I can see you eating M&M’S, sir!!”