Gavin Johnston has a terrific post at Marketing Profs with some creative ideas for re-imagining how to run focus groups in a way that elicits useful, thoughtful creative data. Johnston points to the familiarity of consumers with the focus group process as being the key driver in the declining usefulness of focus groups. I would add that equally problematic is that marketers have become overly familiar with the standard focus group approach.
It is too easy to game the system and design groups and questions that seek to elicit confirmation of a conclusion executives have already reached. Johnston's suggested approaches would shake up now-rote behaviors on both ends which I think will lead to richer and more robust results.
It strikes me as no surprise that Johnston's title is "Chief Anthropologist" as this new model moves nicely towards ethnography which is, in my experience, one of the best tools we have for collecting qualitative data but generally requires more time and resources to set up and execute than do focus groups. As a moderator I would be eager for an opportunity to give this approach a try.