January 19, 2017

Marketers And Magicians

There was a time about a century ago when magicians were very popular.

Harry Houdini was a rock star. Houdini did tricks that were, and still are, astounding. One hundred years later the world's leading magicians still can't figure out how he did many of his tricks.

At the time, and since then, there have been two schools of magic. One school - often part of the séance and spirituality crowd - claimed they had supernatural powers and were able to do their magic because of their occult abilities.

The other group said, horseshit. It's just tricks. Houdini was one of these. They have become known as the "skeptical movement " (or if you're not a Yank, the sceptical movement) and apply their principle of skepticism to many areas of life, not just magic.

You could include scientists like Richard Dawkins and Bill Nye as well as more contemporary magicians like the Amazing Randi and Penn & Teller among the skeptical movement.

Steven Novella of the Yale School of Medicine says, "A skeptic is one who prefers beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid to ones that are comforting or convenient..."

In the world of advertising and marketing there are a great many assertions that are made without proper scientific foundation. Curiously, many of these are made by the very people -- the technology fraternity -- who consider themselves empiricists but are often just true believers in a philosophy that seems scientific because it is technological. But is unproven by actual observation.

A perfect example of this is the blind belief in social media marketing by technophiles because it happens to live online, despite an avalanche of dismal results (88% of senior marketing execs say they have seen no quantifiable results from social media.)

I am often accused of hating online advertising for ideological reasons. While it's true that I largely hate online advertising, it's not based on ideology. It's based on the same skepticism I try to apply to anything I read or hear that is presented with great authority but is rooted in flimsy or unconvincing "research" or vague data that is cherry-picked to prove a point.

I maintain the same level of skepticism toward the questionable brand babble of "traditional" advertising as I do to the wobbly claims of online advertising.

Whether you're listening to the prattle of magicians, the assertions of marketing experts, or the blathering of bloggers, my advice is to always allow yourself the great gift of skepticism.

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