Grass targets

2007-12-15 00:00

I am a grass. Yes, it’s true. I take part in the habit on a weekly basis, and it gives me a real thrill. Some of my friends are doing it, too. Let me explain.

“Grassing” is not some sort of lingo for drug abuse or something. I work for a research company called Instant Grass. Based in Cape Town, Instant Grass was formed in 2003 and it is the brainchild of Ian Calvert and Greg Potterton. They saw an opportunity to build a link between consumers and producers, and “grassing” was born. Simply put, Instant Grass are the people who help major companies tailor their products to suit the needs of consumers.

How do they do this? There are currently over 2 000 “grasses” on call at any given time, who get the necessary information that clients such as MTV, Levi’s, SAB, FNB and Johnson&Johnson need, but cannot really get from a five-minute in-store survey.

“Grasses” are the people who convinced Levi’s to make a jean better suited to the larger African derriere (true story, as “Grass research” paved the way for the new Eva range for bigger booties!). “Grasses” go out there, armed with a camera and questions, and get the lowdown on what people think about the products and services around them.

At any given time, there are about 80 active grasses doing weekly work all over the country. In my five months of being a “grass”, I have handled briefs dealing with products as diverse as cellphones, banking services and even the simple Smoothies sweets. The job of a “grass” knows no limits. The briefs allow “grasses” to get the information that people will only give in the company of friends. For example, no one would tell a street vendor or tuckshop lady that the wrapper on a Smoothies sweet is too fussy to open, but among friends this information is thrown about liberally.

The camera is a vital part of the process, as it allows the clients to see what kind of people are saying the things they are saying. Besides the weekly briefs, truly “super grasses” are expected to keep their eyes open, and take note of any new trends developing within their circle of friends. And that entails anything, from a funky pair of shoes, or a wacky new designer making cool clothes, to new technology trends emerging around us. The job makes “grasses” look at their world in a completely different way.

Attached to being a grass, one can also be a seed. Instant Seed is a separate, more intense form of research, that involves focus sessions where new products are tested on eager sample markets. Instant Seed is a strategic process aimed at identifying the most influential, respected and relevant individuals, building a VIP relationship with them built on trust and credibility and providing platforms for regular and honest feedback.

The reaction gathered from seeds allows Instant Grass to compile specific profiles of the type of people interested in the “test product”, and this step can be crucial in deciding whether a product is actually launched to the public or not. Instant Seed taps into a vital form of marketing that is still regarded as the most potent form of advertising. Word of mouth.

According to a recent New York Times poll, a “recommendation from a friend” is the most credible source of information; corporate advertising is the least credible.

Instant Seed has worked with a host of big-name clients, and recently played an integral role in the launch of a new type of alcoholic spring water, called Vawter.

To be a grass you need to be outgoing, connected and hardworking; also super punctual, innovative and ready to go at all times.

Having started in South Africa, Instant Grass have opened offices in Moscow and Tokyo. The Middle East and South America are their next targets.

Grass influence: a few examples

•Instant Grass named and designed the Cube stores, a national mall retailer. The stores house brands like Puma, Levis, Hang Ten and others. Grasses were asked where they like to shop, and what makes a cool store.

•Grasses were asked what would be a cool thing to win, and based on their responses, Hunters was the first brand to give away a Hummer in SA, and now Cell C is following this example.

Quote from a grass that sums up the attitude of the youth when it comes to brand choice.

“Do you really think a billboard or a magazine ad is going to make me wanna drink, wear or use some product? Hell no, of course not. It might maybe, just might maybe, get me to think about it, but it’s not going to get me to take up my allegiance with it. How dumb do I look? The only thing that changes my mind or influences me is my friends. If they tell me something is cool, then I will try it cause I trust them and they’ve got my back.”

Clients

SABMiller, Unilever, First National Bank, Distell, MTN, Vodacom, MTV, Levi Strauss, Microsoft, Adidas, Red Bull, Coca Cola, Kellogg’s, Ackermans, Foschini Group, Diageo, Media24, SABC, YFM, Oakley, Occhiali.

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