April 20, 2015
How Marketers Lie To Themselves
Anyone who has spent time in advertising knows that there are very few things in this world as unreliable as the numbers we throw around.
Our industry is so poorly trained in mathematics and statistics, we can be fooled by the most elementary of statistical manipulations and misrepresentations.
But our denseness about numbers is often as much about self-delusion as it is about ignorance. Often, we want to believe the lies we tell ourselves.
I remember not long ago -- during The Great QR Code Scare Of 2012 -- I was finding the following statistic being bandied about: "60% of people say they use QR codes."
This statistic was obviously total bullshit, and yet serious people seemed to be taking it seriously. Anyone who spent any time in the real world could see that no one was using QR codes. Yet this stat kept popping up to justify the implementation of this dimwit technology.
It was pretty clear to me what was going on. Someone did a survey: "Have you ever used a QR code?" 60% of some sample said yes. This lead to enormous misrepresentation and misunderstanding.
Here's how it happens. Let's say you ask people the following question: Have you ever eaten a snail? And 60% of the people say they have. Then you create a sentence -- "60% of Americans say they eat snails."
Even though the incidence of eating a snail may be once in a lifetime, the sentence in question appears to make the eating of snails a regular occurrence.
The same with the QR code. If 60% of consumers used a QR code once, the actual incidence of using a QR code while shopping might be one in a hundred thousand.
But by structuring the sentence to say, "60% of people say they use a QR code" instead of "the incidence of QR code use among shoppers is one in a hundred thousand" a truth is technically being told, but reality is being radically misrepresented.
While we in the marketing business often use slippery words and sentence structures to put a happier face on our communication to consumers, we don't realize how frequently this trick is used on us.
When an entire industry wants to believe, there is no better time to be skeptical.