Thursday, 14 July 2011

I'll tell you what you want, what you really, really want

Poor old Hugh Davidson. If the last real advertising campaign you worked on was probably the Playtex Cross Your Heart bra, how do you hold your head up in later years?
His 'official' profession wrote off such monochrome stuff in the 1980’s. As the publishing world, even then, was awash with pulped ‘memoirs’ from advertising’s golden era, he gamely reinvented his as ‘marketing manuals’ to try to cash in on the business guru/self-help boom of that hideous, shoulder-padded era. In turn his grateful publishers (I always suspect just to stop him hanging out in reception and scaring off newer clients) arranged a largely honorary ‘professorship’ at a ‘business college’ no truly ambitious teenage Sugar clone went near - being far too busy and successful knocking out dodgy videos from a barrow if we are to believe the hype.
When the wheels fell off vanity publishing and pedagogy, other geriatric marketing gurus were reduced to flogging their dubious talents to third rate offshore tax havens. It didn’t work out for any of them, because when the governments of such backwaters did their sums they found the rate at which custom was ebbing away was exceeded only by the ludicrous sums such chumps demanded for the alzheimer-induced ravings they passed off as ‘consultancy’.
Not to mention the tightening up of regulatory regimes, the OECD, etc., etc., which had the effect of getting the serious offshore world to engage with the real business community and the rest to go to the wall.
Except in the Isle of Man of course, where, as the finance sector and a few Treasury bods just got on with business, Uncle Hugh was talking to the swivel-eyed loons who run the rest of government. Entranced, like so many six year olds with learning difficulties, by his shiny baubles and fancy words, they sanctioned ‘Freedom to Fester’ – surely the daftest concept since…..well, the Cross Your Heart bra (which only MLCs are old enough to remember -and media trainspotters like me mad enough to trawl through old videos for in search of stone age advertising methodology).
Now the Alzheimers Army are at it again. See for details of a ‘political poll’ which, reading between the lines, cannot even be flogged to the cash-strapped Fools on the Hill, hence Hugh’s kind funding.
To save you some trouble, I will explain something simple.
In genuine academic research involving public consultation, the academics choose an interesting question to answer, then find a way to structure the enquiry such that (a) the public get to say what they really think, know and do without helpful ‘prompts’ from interested parties (b) a reasonable cross-section of the public get to be involved and (c) ways to make sure unexpected findings, rather than preferred ones, are kept in (and all attempts by lobby groups and other interested parties to skew the evidence in their favour can be kept out) are sought rigorously.
As a result, however strongly they suspect certain findings will follow, the academics can never be sure what they will get, and whatever they do get will be fully written up along with the methods of getting them so that other academics can check for unintended bias or plain wrongheadness.
By comparison, a’marketing survey’ works the other way round. First the surveyors ascertain what the client wants the result to be. Then they plan the survey so that there can be no other.
The questions are loaded so that only the preferred answers will be given by a significant majority, with a few random ‘wrong’ ones from a predetermined minority of deviants. The sampling survey is rigorously chosen to ensure only suitable participants are included – this can include pre-surveying applicants, choosing only a certain geographic or economic demographic, a preferred ‘psychographic’ (e.g. conservative, suspicious, low in self-esteem) etc. etc. Added to this (and having enough friends at college who did this for pin-money I know for certain) the surveyors get bored, lie, make up answers and fictitious participants, while the public get even more bored and (as genuine researchers know) also have a tendency to try and guess the ‘right’ answer. Result – a ‘survey’ whose findings should not be trusted as far as anyone can throw them.
The only interesting question might be why, apart from boredom or egotism, anyone wants this survey enough to put up their own money to facilitate it? We may get the answer when the results are in and their sponsor tells what we want next.

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