April 12, 2011

How To Improve Your BS Detector

In high school, we were taught that everything in the world is made up of just a few elementary particles like electrons, protons and neutrons.

It's the same in advertising. As I've said on other occasions, the advertising industry is made up of just two elementary components -- ads and bullshit.

Consequently, one of the most valuable skills today's busy ad professional needs to develop is the ability to differentiate between bullshit and not bullshit.

There are a number of methods that work well. One that I have been utilizing recently is what I call the "for example" method.

Here's how it works.

Let's start with something that's not bullshit. Tom says, "There are a lot of crappy shows on TV." Jane challenges that and says, "Give me an example." It's hard to say what show Tom might give as an example. This is because Tom's statement is true and there are an abundance of stinky TV shows Tom could cite.

Now let's take a look at something that is bullshit and see how a similar scenario plays out. Tom says, "Twitter is a great way to generate big sales." Jane challenges that and says, "Give me an example." We absolutely know, in advance, what example Tom will give -- either Zappos or Old Spice. How do we know this? Because Twitter is not a reliable way to generate big sales, and the only serious examples that exist are a tiny number of cases that are far outside the normal range.

I found this method to be valuable during the great account planning scare of the '90's. Whenever someone would make some outrageous claim about the magical power of account planning, I would ask for examples. I would always get the same example -- "got milk."

So here's the "for example" principle of bullshit detection: If you know -- in advance -- the only examples an advocate for a general proposition can cite, then what he's advocating is probably bullshit.

And speaking of BS......scientists now say that what we were taught was wrong. Electrons, neutrons, protons and the like are not the elementary particles that everything is built with. As a matter of fact, most of the universe is constructed of stuff we can't even detect called "dark matter." The universe is strange. Even stranger than advertising.

Apologies... for a goof in yesterday's post. Usually when I screw something up I can fix it quickly. Yesterday I was on an airplane all day and couldn't.

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