Projective Tests in Qualitative Marketing Research

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  • 0:03 Projective Tests
  • 1:26 Types of Projective Tests
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Projective tests are important components of a qualitative market research study. This lesson explores the various types of projective testing and when each type would be appropriate to use during research.

Projective Tests

Homeless Man

I took this picture of my father when I was eight years old. As you look at the image, would it be safe to say that you probably think he's homeless, uneducated, possibly mentally ill, or an addict? Would your feelings about the man change if I told you that he had a master's degree in mathematics and a second master's degree in business? What about if we tacked on the fact that he works for a well-known defense contractor, holds a top secret security clearance, and brings home an annual pay check in the six-figure range?

In truth, the man in the image is not my father. He's actually just a model being used in stock photography. Had he actually been my father, the second group of characteristics would have been true. When you look at the model, dressed in dirty clothes and smoking a cigarette, you likely projected a number of assumptions about him in no more than one or two seconds. This is an example of subconscious bias, and it is why qualitative marketing research often uses projective tests to find the true motivation of customers who buy or use a product or service.

Projective tests are used in qualitative market research. Projective tests help researchers match what test subjects report as their reasons for a decision with the other reasons that the customer is formulating in their subconscious.

Types of Projective Tests

Word Association

Try to think of a single word that describes what you are looking at. One word only.

Creepy Clown

This type of projective testing is called word association. In word association studies, market researchers ask a research subject to choose one or two words that describe a particular product or service. This technique helps organizations tailor their products and services to capture customers on the unconscious bias of emotion. If the clown in the image above were to be tested on this technique, it is likely that the most common responses would be words like creepy, scary, or frightening. If you make your livelihood as a performer and your potential customers describe you that way, it might be time for a change in makeup.

Normal Clown

After some adjustments, our clown (hopefully) now elicits words like funny, eccentric, or silly.

Sentence Completion

A technique similar to word association is sentence completion. In this technique, a market researcher asks a participant to observe a stimulus object, such as a picture or video, and then provides them with a sentence oriented to the attribute or brand component they are trying to evaluate. In this image, a market researcher might ask participants a question like, ''How would you finish the following sentence: The person who owns this house is probably _____.''


The key difference between word association and sentence completion is a question of focus. Word association is general because it uses the first word that comes to a potential customer's mind. Sentence completion allows the researcher to point the participant in a particular direction that corresponds to the attribute they are attempting to study.

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