January 20, 2010

Admitting What We Don't Know

A few years ago I wrote a post for this blog, and a chapter for my book (it's free here) called "Precision Guessing."  The thrust of the article was that, despite our pretensions, advertising and marketing people know almost nothing about human behavior.

Of course, we pretend we do and we have invented a whole lexicon and area of practice (account planning) built around our supposed knowledge.

But our "expertise" in this area is never actually put to rigorous scientific scrutiny.

Sometimes what we do works and sometimes it doesn't. All the research -- the focus groups and ethnography -- that lead to our brilliant insights are never revisited after the fact to find out what was real and what was not.

It either works and we keep the account, or it doesn't and we lose it.

I have never seen evidence that advertising created with the benefit of planning is any more effective than advertising created by a guy with a yellow pad sitting at a bar (which I frequently saw Hal Riney do at a joint called Reno Barsocchini's.)

So we are left with this: It is possible that all the front-end work we do to find a suitable brand strategy is terrifically valuable and leads us to brilliant insights that inform our marketing decisions and make our advertising far more effective.  And it is equally possible that it is all a bunch of crap.

As far as I know, there is no scientific evidence either way.

Let's call on our favorite genius, Richard Feynman, for some thoughts on this.

More about this tomorrow.

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