The Secret Marketer on bad statistics

Our ’man on the inside’ provides a view from the top of the marketing tree

This week I was delighted to spend a day sitting on the judging panel for some upcoming industry awards. Despite the mountain of pre-reading, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and fantastic to see a cross-section of marketing work from many different industry sectors.

Two things struck me. First, the calibre of work coming out of the not-for-profit sector was a million miles better than that coming from the commercial camp. Second, the huge amount of effort that people go to in preparing their entries.

In most cases, it was the agencies that had compiled the entries on behalf of their clients. As one might expect, they were aesthetically pleasing with some wonderful commentary written by the planners not the suits. However, where most entries fell down was in the dreadful use of statistics. These particular awards were designed to reward effectiveness and not just creativity, so we were looking for a combination of creative brilliance alongside firm evidence of results versus the objectives that had been set for a particular campaign.

“Entries had ridiculous sound-byte statistics that were the stuff of dreams rather than reality”

There is a saying that bad statistics are worse than no statistics, and I tend to agree. Time and time again, entries had ridiculous sound-byte statistics that were the stuff of dreams rather than reality. Such blatant over-statement, though I suspect nothing more than innocent misuse of data, tends to undermine the case when sometimes more modest but accurate and credible data would more than support the entry.

Just why is it that people have to claim that their work led to a +3542% uplift by combining two spurious data points and claiming they are related or real? What is wrong with +3.542% once in a while? I know many a business that might be delighted with that result.

We all like to make a big claim once in a while but some of what I read was embarrassing. Given many of these entries were for some very big name household brands, all of those marketers out there who haven’t checked and signed off what the agency is compiling on your behalf, do make sure you give it the once over next time. If the clients themselves have written these, then do go and have a chat with your finance director who can give you a crash course on remedial maths.

Despite this moan and grumble, 99.9% of the creative work I saw was truly inspirational. I guess that’s what really counts.


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