July 24, 2008

Arguing From The Extreme

One of the really annoying habits of advertising people is arguing from the extreme.

By arguing from the extreme, I mean taking the most extraordinary example of something and using this extraordinary case as if it were the norm.

This has been going on for years. Whenever I would get in a discussion with someone about account planning I would always get an earful about "got milk?" Whenever I would express skepticism about a "branding" campaign, I would always get a lecture about "Just Do It." Whenever I asked for data about the effectiveness of online media I got a recap of "subservient chicken."

I acknowledge that those campaigns were terrific and successful. But they were extreme cases. Extreme cases don't tell us anything about the general, they tell us only about the specific.

How about the thousands of smelly turds produced by account planning? How about the parade of abominable branding campaigns? How about the zillions of commercial web pages that got no hits today.

Arguing from the extreme takes a case that is a couple of standard deviations from normal and pretends it's average. This is nonsense. The fact that "got milk?" is terrific advertising tells me nothing about account planning. It tells me that Goodby made a good campaign.

If you want to convince me that account planning has representated a substantial step forward in the effectiveness of advertising, I don't want anecdotes. I want to see data that show that, in general, campaigns developed with the benefit of account planning are more effective than those developed before planning became de riguer. If you accept what you read in the trades about the diminishing effectiveness of advertising, you'd have to believe the exact opposite.

The fact that Enrico Fermi was a physics genius tells us nothing about Italians. It tells us something about Enrico Fermi.

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