04/24/2009 02:14 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Re: Is WellPoint SUGGing? (Ans: "No")

An update on Monday's post asking whether the recorded, automated "survey" conducted by Well Point (the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross / Blue Shield) amounted to what some call "SUGGing," or selling under the guise of survey research.

The short answer, from Howard Feinberg, director of government affairs for the Marketing Research Association (MRA), is "no." The Anthem survey, which did not explicitly attempt to sell anything does not meet their definition SUGGing, a practice that MRA has taken a strong position against, along with fundraising under the guise of surveys (FRUGGing). Feinberg says that the Anthem particular call is really a form of "political advocacy under the guise of research," although it falls short of what Feinberg and most others consider "push polling."

I also received a follow-up message from Patrick Glaser, MRA's director of research standards:

I’ve spoken about the WellPoint “survey” with the MRA’s Professional Standards Chair. As planned, we will be following-up with the organization to learn more about the details of the project. In terms of MRA’s position, depending on the details of how they are presenting the activity to the “respondents,” their relationship to the respondents and how they are utilizing the information, this could potentially fall into an area where our codes do not currently provide specific guidance and/or should be discussed by the full committee.

I believe we may see these types of situations become more common, and I’m going to recommend to our Professional Standards Committee that they develop additional specific guidance about situations that are similar to this one as well as other situations that may vary a bit in their nature, but still relate to the same underlying issues.

Incidentally, our friend Desmoinesdem (who makes it a habit to answer all survey calls) blogged earlier today about what sounds like a clear cut example of fundraising under the guise of a survey ("FRUGGing"), conducted by Newt Gingrich's American Solutions political action committee. The caller identified herself as representing American Solutions, asked the respondent to participate in a "brief survey," and then depending on the responses given, ended the call by soliciting a donation.

The MRA has suggestions about what you can do about this sort of abuse of surveys and directions on how to report such calls to them directly, on their web site.