An intriguing newspaper ad caught my eye and as a freelancer, I’m always on the lookout for quirky story ideas. Also, payment was promised, which is always a bonus. The ad described a clinical trial at a prestigious organization in New Haven. They were researching off-label use of a pharmaceutical drug for an unapproved indication, which is when a drug is medically appropriate for a given condition. Free parking was offered, free lunch was provided, and best of all — the promised payment was quite substantial.

I went through a phone pre-interview, passed that first hurdle, then drove to New Haven the next morning, gratefully took advantage of the free parking because parking is pricey in the city, then met with two ridiculously young college students who were in charge. I sat down at a computer, began answering pop-up questions, followed by answering spoken questions, having my vital signs checked, then free lunch. I was given a vial of pills and instructed how to take them.

This routine continued for 30 days, culminating in a final session which consisted of two new ridiculously young college students asking me more questions, having me answer increasingly complex questions online evidently in an effort to guarantee complete honesty in question-answering, followed by free lunch and a substantial check to take home. (I think it would be a good litmus test to submit presidential candidates to this style of interrogation.) The clinical trial produced no side effects during the month of daily pills, but I was never told what the off-label use would be, so that remained a mystery.

This wasn’t my only experience with consumer research groups, though. The first one I heard about was for a new type of potato chip. Imagine that — getting paid to eat snacks! The panel leader was receiving feedback along the lines of “this tastes good” and I was giving him “the lime undertone of this chip would pair well with sour cream infused with chive dip and a spicy Rioja wine.” I was the only one asked to come back for the next session, and then regularly after that. Unfortunately, it wasn’t always food. This wasn’t the Pew Research Center, mind you, just a group paid by a large corporation to subtly use our taste buds against us to create an addiction to a particular flavor of potato chip. I’m just guessing on that.

Back in the 1980s I remember when the Coca-Cola Company made the disastrous decision to come out with New Coke. If you recall that fiasco, I categorically state that I had nothing to do with those blind taste tests. I was drinking Tab at the time, because supposedly it would magically make the pounds drop off, and the can was hot pink with that fabulous tagline “Tab’s got Sass!” Who could resist all that? I was never called for Tab consumer research; more’s the pity because I would have told them not to change a single thing.

I saw a recent craigslist posting: “Are you currently suicidal and drink alcohol to cope? Earn up to $120 for completing a paid study online.” I don’t know, that’s kind of a stretch for me, but we all have our crazy days and I do like wine with dinner.

Connecticut Media Group