I find myself once again moved to speak out against another piece of 24 carat nonsense – this time in the shape of the PIRC report into the ethics of advertising: "Think of me as evil?". I speak as someone who is in many ways supportive of the underlying aim of the authors: to stem the tide of unsustainable consumerism that threatens to irreparably harm the planet.
Sadly, I fear the report does more harm to this cause than good.
At a US conference on the future of communications a week ago I heard those oft-repeated words that increasingly lead me to froth at the mouth, but generally get heads nodding in autonomic acquiescence: "the internet changes everything".
Surely I can't be the only person to regard this as deluded nonsense - or am I? I do not doubt for a moment the huge impact the internet (in a general sense) has had on the marketing of brands, but it most certainly has not changed everything.
Every now and then I come across 'learned' marketing papers that are so wide-of-the-mark that I feel compelled to speak out. There's plenty of half-baked material around that is not worth the effort of comment, but true 24-carat nonsense is more rare. Before this starts to sound like a self-opinionated attack I should define what I mean by 'nonsense': that which contradicts consistent case study evidence of success.
My 'opinion' is principally shaped by the almost 6000 case studies from around the world in the Warc archive. It is relatively simple to test theory against this body of evidence - but clearly the authors of real nonsense do not trouble themselves to do so.
When I came across a promising-sounding paper in the McKinsey Quarterly entitled Unlocking the elusive potential of social networks, I was naturally interested. I have read many case studies that made great use of social networks to generate buzz for brands and have attempted myself to extract the general principles that appear to underlie success.
I remember attending one of Professor Andrew Ehrenberg’s seminars many years ago: I was mesmerised by his somewhat curmudgeonly delivery, the professorial German accent and the frequent references to his favoured hypothetical brands Bingo and Bango. It was like being back at University. Clearly some thought otherwise – a number walked out when they realised that he was attacking things they believed in, like loyalty marketing. I even heard the word ‘rubbish’ used during the coffee break: the ignorance and arrogance of his doubters have always been tough to overcome. The pattern has continued ever since, with the wise few supporting (and funding) his research, but widespread rejection of his message amongst others. My observation that day was that there was a more insidious facet to this rejection: Ehrenberg was not the kind of polished presenter that marketing audiences like. There was no entertaining video or slick PowerPoint charts, no seductive storytelling: just devastating logic, rigorous analysis and years of hard graft. How un-sexy. It is a sad reflection on the credulousness of our world that, given the choice of the following…
The Chinese philosopher Lao Tse is supposed to have written that 'a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step'. These days we might talk about 'quick wins' or 'low hanging fruit'. There is nothing wrong with this of course, so long as it doesn't cause you to lose sight of the ultimate destination.
It appears from a recent Warc News report that this is precisely what recession has driven many Marketers to do. Warc News reported that "A majority of advertisers in the US are using functional rather than emotional messages to promote their products, a trend that has been encouraged by the economic downturn." They have discovered that aggressive promotional messages can produce immediate sales up-ticks. How long before they discover not only that this gets them nowhere in the long term, but actually sends them backwards?
I was recently reminded at a speaking engagement in Slovenia that success is a dangerous thing in many ways.
Someone in the audience observed that often campaigns that were performing successfully in business terms were rewarded by a cut in the budget (rather than an increase, as I had been advocating) and I started to wonder how common this was.
Certainly when you start searching through the global case studies of effectiveness in the Warc archive you keep coming upon examples of this.
First a big thank you for the encouraging comments to previous posts– much appreciated.
I'm prompted to post once more on the subject of pre-testing by two recent events. One was seeing Duncan Southgate's fascinating presentation at the MAP 2010 conference, which was mostly concerned with viral viewing and how to pre-test for viral success. The other was re-reading David Penn's fantastic 2008 ESOMAR paper in the light of my recent exploration of the pioneering pre-testing work being done by Brainjuicer and Cogresearch (see my recent posts here and here).
From the response to my last post it would appear that not all of the market research community is convinced of the need to improve pre-testing techniques – evidently perfection already exists.
So before I share some other intriguing papers on new pre-testing approaches with you, I will revisit the IPA dataBank evidence on the need for a revolution in pre-testing techniques.
I'm planning - with your help - to use the Warc database to explore current hot topics. Each post will draw on new material appearing in the archive that I think may be interesting and relevant. But your comments will be my guide.
I'm kicking off with an issue that has been running for decades but never seems to get resolved: quantitative pre-testing (or copy testing as many will know it).