Bad PR: Misogyny on the Bounty


As readers of this site will probably know, I have a bit of a beef when it comes to bullshit PR companies spouting Bad PR, and in particular with a company by the name of OnePoll.com.

OnePoll is an interesting beast – is business model is to pay people around 10p for their participation in a relatively quick online survey, with the idea being that the more surveys you take part in, the more you earn. The upshot of this means the quicker you complete the survey, the faster you can move on to the next one. It also means that when you’re asked a screening question like ‘Are you single or in a relationship?‘, and you can see the name of the survey is ‘Being In Relationships!‘, it’s pretty easy to see that to enter the survey and claim your shiny 10p, you obviously pretend to be in a relationship. Or pretend to be a football fan. Or pretend to be self-employed. Etc. For the sake of your 10p, you enter a load of results which become utterly meaningless.

The speed issue has a knock-on effect elsewhere, too. As I’ve pointed out before, when asked a badly designed question like ‘Which celebrity would you least like to go on holiday with?‘ where the possible responses are from a set list, rather than stopping to think, ‘Actually, I don’t care about any of these people, I’d like to tick the none of the above option, but there isn’t one‘, instead you pick a choice fairly-randomly, fairly-quickly and progress on towards your 10p, and so we get this in the newspapers: Cheryl Cole is celebrity most Brits want to holiday with unlike Katie Price.  I can imagine the most significant factor in these types of questions is often the order the options are presented, rather than their actual content, with a bias towards the options that appear first in the list (that would be my prediction, anyway).

What’s more, to get you started, when you first sign up to One Poll you get something in the region of £2, too – so it feels like a breeze to start really earning. Here’s the kicker though, and of course there is one – before you see a penny of your earnings, you need to accrue £40. At 10p per survey, that’s 400 surveys. I’ve been playing for about months now, and I’m on about £17. So, I can imagine there would be a pretty reasonable fallout rate as people became disillusioned with the process and give up, and thus often OnePoll never have to pay a penny to most of the people they survey. Which makes their business model pretty cheap, then.

Still, despite their flaws (or, more accurately, because of them) OnePoll have a quite staggering ability to make it to press, with around 3 stories a day making the mainstream news. With a bit of research, friend of the MSS Peter Wood was able to identify that these survey-turned-stories tend to net OnePoll around £3250 each. At the rate these surveys make it into the news, I’m sure business in the polling industry must well be booming. Here’s what you get for that price:

– Identify survey angle and compile questionnaire
– Design and script survey ready for upload to www.OnePoll.com
– Place survey on OnePoll’s member area (75,000 strong panel)
– Run the survey online
– Achieve minimum sample of 2,000 UK-based respondents
– Collate and present data
– Mine data and identify news angles
– Create draft news copy for approval – embed PR messages

And therein lies the rub – not only do OnePoll admit to data mining (the practice of gathering together a huge sample of data, and then looking for anomalies and potentially-interesting results within that set, aside from any pre-specified effect to examine), but they actively design and script surveys to produce data to back-up a pre-designed angle. The process is simple: write the story first, then write a survey biased in your favour to ‘discover’ what you’ve already decided in your story, then sell it as breaking research – mostly with a lovely mention of a company’s name, most frequently in the 4th paragraph.

(As a brief but important aside, the 4th paragraph rule I go on about a lot is done for a very well contrived reason – when editing copy, classically editors cut from the bottom up, originally to fit the space left for the story in that day’s newspaper. So copywriters are taught to put the most salient details in the top paragraph, and introduce supporting details in order of importance, with the least significant bits at the bottom ready to be cut if needed. So to ensure the name of the paymaster of the story isn’t cut (and often, in news-in-brief style stories, they are), the company or product name has to appear high enough up to be salvaged from the slice, but low enough to semi-obscure that the whole purpose of the article is promotion. Hence, the 4th paragraph.)

So, why am I telling you all of this? Partly, because it fascinates me. Partly, because it’s everywhere. But mostly, with OnePoll being responsible for some very irresponsible and unethical surveys of late, because there can be real damage involved in this approach. One such example bobbed to the surface this Friday, when the following article appeared in the Daily Record:

Dad by trickery

One in 10 women has tricked a man into getting them pregnant, it was claimed yesterday.

But less than half of them actually wanted the person the used to stick around once the baby was born.

Figures emerged in a poll of 3000 mums for parenting club Bounty.com

And in The Sun:

One in 10 trick dads

One in ten mums TRICKED their fella into getting them pregnant, a survey revealed yesterday.

Top ruses were lying about being on the pill or just not mentioning contraception.

A quarter of those who duped their man said he ‘would have given in one day anyway’, the survey of 3000 mums found.

But half said they were not even bothered if the father stuck around.

This was all promotion for parenting website Bounty.com, who appear to be unrelated to the tissue-paper manufacturer ‘Bounty’ or the chocolate bar ‘Bounty’, or indeed Dogg The Bounty Hunter (alas). Their press release went into a little more detail about the deception perpetrated by 10% of women:

PRESS RELEASE: Bounty

Written: Friday 29th October, 2010

One in 10 women have tricked a man into getting them pregnant with less than half actually wanting the person they ‘used’ to stick around once the baby was born. Incredibly, 23 per cent of women who hoodwinked their partner said they knew he would give in one day, but needed to be ”encouraged” to speed things up.

A third of unrepentant women said their biological clock was ticking, while 19 per cent of tricksters knew their partner never wanted to have a baby. The shocking figures emerged in a study of 3,000 mums – which also shows 65 per cent of these mums were successful the very first time they tried to trick their partner.

And those women who didn’t fall pregnant first time round continued to sleep with someone and lie to them a further nine times until they finally conceived.

Twelve per cent of ladies would simply drop a pill every now and then, and 11 per cent resorted to getting their partner drunk.

Faye Mingo, spokeswoman for parenting club Bounty.com, said: ”Thankfully our research found that 86 per cent women polled would never consider ‘tricking’ their partners into conceiving. But a over a quarter admitted they fell pregnant before their partner had actually agreed to ‘try for a baby’. Whilst we do understand that some women in stable relationships may feel the need to nudge things along when their biological clock starts ticking, the possible implications of tricking a partner must be considered. “

Now, remember that bit about the 4th paragraph rule? Do you think the reassuring quote from the contact at Bounty.com appears so low down in the article by coincidence? Most likely it’s there so that when editors get snipping, they cut the quote in favour of all of the juicy stats above – which is exactly what happened in both the Daily Record and The Sun. Also, bear in mind that this poll claims to be from 3000 mums, yet as I’ve demonstrated there’s a major incentive to take surveys that aren’t applicable to you, and another major incentive to skip through those surveys as quickly as possible. Do you still trust these stats?

On top of that, over a quarter of mums admitted they fell pregnant before they talked about trying to have a baby with their partner – does that really count as deceit? Or is that a misunderstanding of their cycles, making a mistake, both partners forgetting to use contraception, or one of the myriad of other reasons people fall pregnant unexpectedly? Does that still make these women liars, tricksters, and unrepentant manipulators? Absolutely not.

Speaking of unrepentent manipulators, this survey and the associated press around it are still up on OnePoll’s website, and also on Bounty’s website. That’s where they were when I first spotted them on Friday, and tweeted links to the press release behind the news. After I’d raised the story, especially with sexual health advocate Dr Petra Boynton, a lot of people made a lot of noise, rightly disgusted that Onepoll and a parenting website would raise the spectre of paternity paranoia in order to get their name in the press. How did Bounty respond? By deleting their tweet pushing the story out onto Twitter.

Clearly, then, they’re proud of their work. Fortunately, I knew well enough to screencap their promotional tweet, and made the point in a subsequent message. Here’s their response when I caught them red-handed:

Apologies 2 any1 offended by our recent research story – this was meant as a bit of seasonal fun & is by no means a judgement of anyone

By no means judgemental? They’re telling the world that women who get pregnant without their partner’s agreement are liars, based on stats that are more than questionable from a polling company with a past record of using dodgy stats, biased polls and borderline shock tactics in order to get their clients into the news. As for ‘seasonal’, I’m not sure what season it is to call women liars – maybe that one went missing from my calendar. These stories absolutely aren’t ‘fun’, though – as Dr Petra points out, the paranoia over paternity is a real fear for a lot of men, as is the idea that they’ve been tricked into fatherhood. Both fears can play a not unsubstantial role in cases of domestic abuse, so it’s easy to see how branding 10% of the female population as liars could have a significantly damaging effect.

I won’t go into the reasons why the findings from the survey are flawed here, mainly because Dr Petra is an expert in the field and has done the job far better than I ever could. I do, however, fully recommend you check out her appraisal of the story.

As for OnePoll, if you’d like to find out more about their past wrongs – and there are lots of them – check out our website under ‘bad pr’ (which is also the name of my skeptics in the pub talk, if anyone wants to book me). How did they respond to the outcry at their sexist and deeply damaging release? They emailed the following to Petra:

“As the agency which commissioned this research and distributed the resulting news story, I would like to respond. OnePoll polled 3,000 mothers on behalf of Bounty, looking into the subject of pregnancy. The stats emerged that a small percentage of women admitted to tricking their partner into getting pregnant. I’d like to say that the resulting story in no way glorifies or condones this, in fact Bounty support the very opposite in their quotes. As market research specialists and providers of national news, we would always present the stats, as they are, however controversial. I would like to apologise to anyone who was offended by this piece of research”.
Let’s take a look at this response bit by bit – for one thing, they stand by the data. I think I’ve demonstrated how easily this data could be most likely manipulated and generally utterly false. The resulting story in no way glorifies or condones the perceived deception? I disagree – the language used in the original statement is that of trickery, ruses, deception, unrepentance. The very headlines generated show the glorification angle entirely. The quote supports the opposite view? Partially, yes – but unconvincingly, using another statistic to pour doubt on women’s motives and in a position in the story where it’s most likely to be cut by the editor or ignored by the reader. As for their apology, how genuine is it? Well, this story appeared in the Mail on Monday, based on another OnePoll survey to promote the release of the latest Family Guy boxed set:
Four in ten ‘feuding with their family’ with women blamed for starting trouble
Nearly 20 million Britons are not speaking to members of their family after bitter bust-ups – and the majority hold their mothers responsible, a study has found.
Eight out of ten said it was women family members who were responsible for starting trouble. A third said they had gone for periods of time not talking to their mothers.
OnePoll were so repentent of their first hate story against mothers, that the very next working day they ran with another.
This is bad PR at it’s most shameful, and it’s depressing to realise that the modern news cycle just laps it up.

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  1. #1 by Rob McD on November 4, 2010 - 14:56

    *SIGH* This is all so depressing. You guys do a great job flagging this up but it seems like such a mutually beneficial arrangement between media outlets, PR companies and those wishing to push their services that I wonder if anything can be done to curb it…

  2. #2 by Peter Wood on November 4, 2010 - 16:15

    Additional to the £3,250 it costs for a company to comission these surveys, it also costs them an extra £300 to incentivise it, obviously this is divided up in to the 10p payments for the participants, but it is basically just an extra profit for OnePoll if the members give up in trying to achieve their target of £40.
    It is an awful lot of fun getting creative in the ‘other’ box (when you’re provided with one).
    Oh, and I’m beating you, Marsh, I’m up to £22 🙂

  3. #3 by Declan on November 8, 2010 - 17:29

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    This is really useful for such times, and they do happen, when hapless tabloid readers tell me “i saw a survey in the paper and it said “.

    Previously when this happened i did have to say to them its probably a load of old shite, but now i have actually have something to back it up.

    At the very worst, i might bore them with my unsensational reasoning for five minutes but at least then they might think twice about annoying me with said type of drivel the next time.

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