Exploiting a Meme For a New Projective Activity!

Experienced online community moderator Shaili Bhatt (C+R Research) spins a popular internet meme into a new projective activity for qualitative market research. Get inspired!

When writing a discussion guide, it’s wonderful to be able to tap into resources that already exist in order to craft a well-rounded discussion. A treasure trove of creative activities to elicit people’s thoughts and feelings beyond a surface level already exist. These activities are readily available to moderators of all experience levels, so it’s a big research-geek thrill when inspiration sparks for a projective activity with a new angle!

Our online qual team enjoys passing around new links for information or sheer entertainment. Twitter searches, Pinterest, and social publishers like Mashable, BuzzFeed and Reddit are some of our current sources for inspiration.

In fact, when I came across the “What I Really Do” storyboard meme in 2012, one of the Top Memes for 2012, with all of its visual glory and bite-size insights, I was very excited!

Memes have long run rampant in social media, so I apologize if you already know or create your own memes. Perhaps you’ve even enjoyed a good meme before and didn’t know that it stems from a larger style set.

By definition, a meme is basically a visual element—picture or video—with cultural significance that goes viral. It gets passed across the internet from one user to another, usually for entertainment value.

The sharing fad around the “What I Really Do” meme (one example shown below — click here to see more) which you may have seen last year, surreptitiously inspired me to transfer the basic visual layout of the meme to adapt it for use in online qualitative research.


This meme consists of a six-frame comic montage, which initially shares a first-person perspective of other people’s thoughts that relate to the protagonist author and his or her occupation. The last two frames focus this autobiographical narrative into a couple of self-aware confessions about “What I think I do” and “What I really do.”

The visuals are compelling confessions, especially when the author spends time to find just the right pictures. I’ve found that the honesty in each frame is refreshingly poignant and sure, and the story connects and builds to exude just the right magic that we qualitative researchers like to capture.

This “What I Really Do” meme works well for research in its multi-frame storyboard layout. It’s fun when participants identify the meme and are excited to put their own spin on it. In short, this fun, new projective gives us a multi-angle lens into consumers’ lives.

For a lighter exercise, I also like this twist on the meme (about this popular Broadway show, for example):

Projective activity inspired by a meme. Three frames instead of six.

Participants individually select the image(s) for each of the three buckets. The formats are flexible and thought-provoking for both the 6- and 3-frame layouts; it’s easy to change out the “What” to a “Where” or “How,” pairing it with a relevant action such as, “Where I Vacationed” or “What I Cleaned,” and even ask about group perceptions—just change the “I” to “We” (like “What We Watched” or “What We Played”) by referring to friends, family or other connections in the instructions.

The stories and depictions that people generate through these activities can be entertaining and insightful for all parties. Early results suggest these activities would float well across a variety of category discussions.

What are your suggestions and feedback around this projective inspired by a meme? Post a comment to share what you think! Also, what creative sources inspire you and your research?

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6 Responses to “Exploiting a Meme For a New Projective Activity!”

  1. Bruce Peoples says:

    January 25th, 2013 at 9:45 am

    This is good stuff! My teenage kids pointed out the meme mania in recent years. A tactical question when using this approach:
    – Does it work equally well in focus groups and online bulletin boards?
    – In focus groups, can you substitute having respondents draw images in the boxes?
    – Is this best executed via a homework assignment (seems like it might take some time for a participant to pull it all together)?

  2. Amy says:

    January 28th, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for sharing this simple yet fun and useful projective technique. I had the same thought as Bruce of using it in real-life research. Could make for a good homework assignment prior to a focus group or even an in-home visit (sort of like doing a collage).

  3. Steve August says:

    January 28th, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Excellent post Shaili! I can see this working really well online.

  4. Shaili Bhatt says:

    January 28th, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Hi Bruce! This activity is intended for an online discussion (2+ days), where people have more time to complete their work. Granted, you could substitute digital tasks with the idea of drawing images or adding words into the boxes (for focus groups, IDIs, or as homework to kick-start the conversation). I’ve found this takes about 30 minutes from instruction to completion, depending on one’s engagement and passion for the topic.

    Some people stress out about drawing a picture, so you could reinforce that stick figures, etc. are perfectly OK. I don’t think this would take away from the essence of the activity, and I appreciate the inquiry.

  5. Susan Sweet says:

    February 11th, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Shaili, I love this. What a helpful post! I love your idea for a modern spin on the 3-part projective — it will encapsulate what I’ve derived from the “think/feel/say” bubble drawing (in-person technique). I’ll be able to use this one online in my upcoming project. Thanks!


  6. Pingback: Master Your Story with Apps + Video Collages | NewQualitative.org

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