Test Market

Test Market

R.B. Pillay


ur city—or, to be more accurate, our metropolitan statistical area—is the 128 Hz tuning fork for the manifold consumer. That is to say, we are the ideal test market, a pitch-perfect demographic mirror that reflects, in miniature, the dreams and desires and antipathies and urges of all buyers. Births and deaths, women and men, whites and others, families and loners, propertied and unlanded, rich and poor and poorer. And it’s not just the numbers; we are also geographically isolated from tony urban centers. Politically middle-grounded and steady-eyed, always rolling our eyes at the excesses on all sides but still civic-minded when appropriate—nothing we’d raise our voices in public over.

Companies have long used our M.S.A. to test new products, and we have never, not once, failed to accurately forecast the success or failure of the product on a large scale. We proved the viability of the Twinkie when lesser test markets were complaining about the consistency and color of the cake or expressing concerns over the extended shelf life. New Coke bombed here after testing through the roof during product development. Every Nerf toy has to pass muster with our children before being unleashed on the world. We smoked the prototype of the 120-mm cigarette and revealed by our purchasing patterns that, with certain permutations of packaging and marketing, teenage girls could be a cash cow for tobacco companies.

The spider was already in the final stages of the beta cycle—our concerns regarding the potentially suggestive nature of the spinnerets’ location were met with sheepish shrugs from the hardware team—and though, at the time, our recommendation to add an extra set of legs to really differentiate it from insects was met with polite indifference, we sensed that the folks behind the one-way observation mirror were nodding in agreement. It was we who had the rind added to watermelons and removed from single-slice cheese. The first acronym fizzed delightfully on our tongues; due to a side effect of the compression process that was eventually and unfortunately corrected, the periods had been dosed with a mouth-popping load of effervescence. We loved the moon, but the tides left us cold.


Of course, not every product can be a success. The phantom failures, stillborn inventions of R&D labs, litter our shelves. Chips and soda pops conceived and flavored in fever dreams of desperate marketers and stoned food scientists nauseated us—if we were lucky. Diarrhea was a price we paid to be the vanguards against fat substitutes or excessive flax enrichment. Centralized steering wheels seemed perfect when traveling between left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive countries, but receiving constant driving advice from friends and family in both ears was an ultimately unacceptable side effect. Early buzz promised that the pocket compound bow was a wonderful hunter’s companion and personal safety device save for the spike in lower abdominal and scrotal punctures due to accidental discharge. Spray-can cocaine smelled like ozone and left us itchy, irritable, and bound up for days. Just war paired wonderfully with coffee and reduced post-coital dopamine refraction but, due to supply constraints, never got a full rollout. Glaciers were so-so; glaciers with penguins tested through the roof. Then all the penguins died. It happens.


If there is pride, it is not in the alignment of circumstances that brought this attention upon us but in the solemnity and dedication with which we execute our duty—dare we say, our calling—for however long we are asked to do so. We know the demographic stars will eventually align for another M.S.A., which will take our title, and we will slide down the rankings until settling somewhere in the midlist, between Sacramento and Antwerp, if we’re lucky. The adjustment shall, no doubt, be difficult. For a while, we’ll sleep in, let ourselves go, spend too much time on the Internet, shopping and masturbating. After a while, a change of scenery. We’ll simply pack up and hit the road, clear our heads for a bit. That might be good. That might be just the ticket. But we will miss it, no doubt, that slight sense of hypostatization buzzing in the back of our minds as we hefted a new brand of bleach in the grocery store, the sense that we were being reified by the observation and categorization and analyzation of our nascent relationship to the everyday miracle of a new product.


“Product.” After all this time, we have finally begun to understand how the word misses—completely misses the mark. It is so small. It should be gutted with an underscore, if only as a gesture. Product. We might as well ask which way we’re facing if we’re standing at the North Pole.

South, south, south, south, south, south, south, south.  


Illustration by Jamie Owens.

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