Sugging: Sales Under the Guise of Research - Articles



Sugging: Sales Under the Guise of Research

What is "Sugging"?

"Sugging" is a term used by survey researchers to describe the unethical practice of selling under the guise of research.

How Is "Sugging" Different From Legitimate Survey, Opinion and Marketing Research?

Selling, in any form, is different. Whether conducted by telephone, by mail, by fax or via the internet, sales-related activities are not research. The purpose of a sales call, email, fax or mail solicitation is to encourage members of the public to purchase a good or service. Conversely, the purpose of research (in any form - via telephone, mail, in-person interview, door-to-door, mall or focus group) is to gather information and opinions from members of the public to measure public opinions of products and services or social and political issues. Occasionally, survey research companies will offer a gift to the respondent in appreciation of his or her cooperation. Such a gift could be a cash donation to a charity, a product sample, or a nominal monetary award. But, sales or solicitation is not acceptable or permitted in legitimate and professionally conducted research. In fact, if a research company attempts to sell anything while conducting research, they would be in violation of insights industry ethics and standards, and may be in violation of federal law (e.g., the FTC Act, or the Telemarketing Sales Rule).

How do Researchers Manage Personally Identifiable Data?

As part of the survey research process, survey researchers gather information about respondents' attitudes and opinions. Interviewers often ask for what is called "demographic" information to help define the interest that the sample is likely to have in the product or service being studied. This information is never looked at by individual answers, i.e. the information is disassociated from the individuals’ personal identification information. Instead, each person's answers are combined with those of others with similar characteristics and all personally-identifiable information is removed from this information. Most research companies destroy individual questionnaires at the end of the study and names and addresses of participants are separated from the answers if additional tabulation of the results is done. All of a respondent's personally identifiable information is kept strictly confidential. Principles of confidentiality and privacy are deeply ingrained in research industry practice, mandatory industry Codes and in industry guidelines.

How is "Sugging" A Violation of Privacy?

Under survey, opinion and marketing research practices, research companies will never divulge your identity, personal information or individual answers unless you give them permission to do so. In addition, they will never sell or give your name or phone number to anyone else. No one will ever contact you as a result of your participation except perhaps to validate that you did in fact participate. Conversely, sales calls disguised as research calls may be using your information for list generation, may sell that information to third parties and/or may be used to contact you to conduct a sale.

How Can You Tell If It is Real Research?

Overall, there are three easy questions that YOU should ask to determine if the telephone call, mail piece or email is a legitimate survey:

1. "Are you selling anything?”

2. "Will my participation in this survey result in anyone contacting me to try to sell me anything?"

3. "Will my name and personal information be sold or dispensed to anyone who will contact me to try to sell me anything?"

A legitimate research company will answer NO to ALL OF THESE QUESTIONS.

What to do if You Have Been Sugged?

Contact your local Better Business Bureau. In addition, contact IA to alert us to the deceptive activity if it involves an IA member.

About the Author

Howard Fienberg

Howard Fienberg

Based in Washington, DC, Howard is the Insights Association's lobbyist for the marketing research and data analytics industry, focusing primarily on consumer privacy and data security, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), tort reform, and the funding and integrity of the decennial Census and the American Community Survey (ACS). Howard has more than two decades of public policy experience. Before the Insights Association, he worked in Congress as senior legislative staffer for then-Representatives Christopher Cox (CA-48) and Cliff Stearns (FL-06). He also served more than four years with a science policy think tank, working to improve the understanding of scientific and social research and methodology among journalists and policymakers. Howard is also co-director of The Census Project, a 900+ member coalition in support of a fair and accurate Census and ACS. He has also served previously on the Board of Directors for the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics and and the Association of Government Relations Professionals. Howard has an MA International Relations from the University of Essex in England and a BA Honors Political Studies from Trent University in Canada, and has obtained the Certified Association Executive (CAE), Professional Lobbying Certificate (PLC) and the Public Policy Certificate (PPC). When not running advocacy for the Insights Association, Howard enjoys hockey, NFL football, sci-fi and horror movies, playing with his dog, and spending time with family and friends.


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