The Secret Marketer on the misuse of statistics


I got a great new business mailing this week. It was from a media owner trying to flog me a package of poster sites. The case study was compelling. A brand that had used this media had experienced unprecedented success. The sales uplifts were truly impressive by anybody’s standards. Stellar results. Who wouldn’t be sold by this pitch?

Well me for one. The biggest problem was that the case study brand was in fact one of my own. I remember the campaign and I also remember it didn’t seem to achieve a great deal at the time. Worse still, this particular media owner didn’t even take me out to lunch when we booked the campaign. Now they use my name in vain and try to sell me back to myself.

“The case study was compelling. Who wouldn’t be sold by this pitch? Me for one – the brand was one of my own”

Those regular readers of this column (hello Michael from Manchester, Happy New Year mate) will recall that I have a big bugbear against the constant misuse of statistics in our profession. We have a hard enough time fending off accusations that we lack commercial credibility, and such indiscretions only serve to reinforce the stereotype. Does our creativity know no bounds when it comes to spinning the real facts and data?

I shall be asking my brand manager if they had signed off this mailing. I sincerely hope they have not and I suspect it is more likely that the author has grabbed hold of a few unrelated sound bite numbers from ourselves or the media agency and then concocted a headline that would earn pride of place on any of their backlit posters.

This unfortunately executed piece of direct mail is useful proof that database mailshots are typically lacking in any form of human quality control and intervention, thus making it almost impossible for faux pas such as this to be eliminated. When you get it wrong it reflects badly on your brand and you’ve soon got the wrong kind of viral campaign on your hands.

Don’t get me wrong, I am genuinely impressed by the merits of direct marketing as a marketing tool. The efficiency in reaching a target audience on a tailored 1:1 basis is undoubtedly compelling. When you get it right it blows broadcast media out of the water; but this is a good reminder to us all that if we choose to get up close and personal with our target customers, then we better make damn sure we get our lines right.


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