Americana: A Marketing Squeeze

Christopher Harris, 40, a curly-haired Californian with tinted glasses, has an odd occupation. He steps out of a rented Cadillac limousine, approaches unwary pedestrians and asks: "Do you mind if I give you a hug?"

The purpose of these impertinent propositions is supposed to be market research. An Ohio firm that sells animal-shaped plastic planters wondered whether sales would increase if its clerks hugged every customer.

Harris, a professional street pollster, has been seeking the answer to that momentous question for the past two months in Los Angeles, Chicago, Nashville, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. "I've been slapped and spit on and threatened with...

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