You, Too, Can Test The IPhone For Free
The featured product that I would get to test? Yes, the Apple iPhone! I envisioned Steve Jobs waiting anxiously for my personal feedback on his new creation, since he probably hadn't done any product testing of his own before unleashing the iPhone on an unsuspecting populace. Glad to help out, Steve.
Let's find out more about the product-testing folks at ConsumerTestGroup.com. A click or two reveals that ConsumerTestGroup.com "is a place for consumers to get high quality products for FREE!" I learn that they have "millions of happy customers" and that "no other place on the Internet offers an easier way to get free stuff." I click on every link I can find, but there doesn't seem to be any explanation of how, specifically, I will be expected to test the iPhone and where I would send all of my technical feedback. I assume I'll find out when they ship it to me and I become an official test person.
Oh, no. There are only 750 iPhones available to all would-be product testers like me. With such a limited amount, my feedback undoubtedly will carry lots of weight, since Apple is hoping that millions of people will buy the sleek device. I need to enter my ZIP code to see if there are any left in my area. Too bad that I waited until July 5 to do this, because I'm probably out of luck. But wait, it turns out they are still "accepting members" in my neighborhood. All I have to do is enter my e-mail address, snail-mail address and phone number. I then click on Register Now.
"You're almost done! Please take a few moments to respond to our Special Survey below." This is probably to determine my qualifications for testing high-technology products, which is a pretty big responsibility if you think about it. Actually, I am given no choice but to do the survey, because I "must keep going" to get my free iPhone. The page I'm on helpfully suggests that I check "yes" to get "great FREE STUFF & Special Deals." The first offer is a "guarantee" to win $5,000 or five cell phone ringtones. I've already got plenty of ringtones, but with $5,000 I could buy 10 iPhones and not have to spend any more time selecting these offers. I could simply give nine of the phones to my friends and have them do the testing for Mr. Jobs.
Now they want my cell phone number. That's probably to confirm that I have a cell phone, because with ringtones in such short supply you don't want to be handing them out to people who don't actually have cell phones. I'm beginning to think that ConsumerTestGroup.com is more interested in having me troll for "free stuff" than it is in having me test an iPhone. Call me suspicious. Then it dawns on me. They're probably just testing my diligence and patience to see if I truly have what it takes to conduct iPhone tests. Nonetheless, I decide not to give them my cell phone number, and why should I? After all, just below the boxes in which I am to enter my number, my eye catches this: "Yes, I also want a chance to win $10,000 and other valuable prizes from Bid4Prizes." Great! Now I might be able to buy 20 iPhones, give 19 of them to friends and have them do the testing for Apple. I'm starting to catch on here. By the time I'm done selecting offers (perhaps by Christmas), not only will I not have to do any holiday shopping, but Apple will end up with a zillion people testing the iPhone. Is this a great country, or what?
As it turns out, if I don't choose any of the offers being proferred on each page, another page opens with another offer ("Get a FREE 42" Plasma TV!") There are offers for a free home security system, free online coupons (since when do people pay for coupons?), college debt solutions, a free laptop computer, a free glucose meter or a free $500 "Walmart" gift card. I recall that a national retailer with a name spelled Wal-Mart sued a lead generation company a few years back and won a settlement because the lead-gen firm was offering Wal-Mart gift cards online, but this must be a different retailer, one that spells its name Walmart. Now I'm really suspicious.
Time to see what Apple thinks about all of this. I send them an e-mail pointing out that their product name and a picture of an iPhone is being used to recruit product testers who are required to jump through myriad of hoops before they are certified to test the iPhone. Here's the reply from the Apple Postmaster: "Thank you for contacting Apple. I'm sorry but neither of those advertisements are a product of Apple. Most likely these are just ads trying to solicit your email address for sale to other marketing companies. We suggest you do not interact with these ads and only trust ads from the apple.com website."
As the head of a trade association that advocates best practices in online lead generation, I don't know whether to laugh or cringe. It's obvious that Apple has neither the time nor the inclination to scope out every outfit like ConsumerTestGroup.com. One of my recurring fears is that any consumer who has been exposed to ConsumerTestGroup.com or similar Web sites (which continually sprout like mushrooms after a rainstorm) will be skeptical of lead-gen offers from marketers like Nokia or Procter & Gamble, marketers who willingly participate in those offers because they achieve high-quality results. Ditto for some of the best-known Web sites that have chosen to use opt-in advertising to monetize their user base.
So it's two steps forward, one step back while trying to grow the lead-gen industry in a world in which some people think consumers are as dumb as bricks. If you want to test an iPhone, you'll have to wait on line (not online) with everyone else