I’m at a restaurant, not an unusual situation. I’m with an old mate who has been running an (opposing) ad agency for many years. He’s had his usual 3 or 4 beers before getting here, and he’s now had two reds in quick succession. It’s just 1pm and we’re waiting to order.
A waitress swishes past us, young blonde thing that catches his eye and I can see this reminds him of his former years; when his bloated skin, fading good looks and scheming eyes might have been enough in themselves for her to end up in the back seat of his car by 4pm. I know him very well. I can see him contemplating his chances of success. He is to sexism what the Sydney Opera House is to Australian architecture for the rest of the world. Not just a symbol; the total summary of it.
Her presence stimulates him to tell me a story. He leans forward, dribbling slightly at the thought. I move my glass imperceptibly about two centimetres, neatly avoiding a globdule of saliva which lands on the linen. As I watch it spread across the table top towards me like bird flu on the health industry’s horizon, he indicates with his finger that he wants to whisper something important. Like a Mafioso, confessing to his priest. ‘E confidente, sotto voce’.
“Client’s in the board room this morning. Says to me his wife’s worried about the campaign he’s already signed off on. She’s one of these intellectuals, got girlfriends who wear fifties floral dresses and drive Subaru Outbacks you know, working part-time at Legal Aid or some useless charity. And they reckon my campaign encourages, get this, ‘Disney-esque’ values that don’t reflect reality. That we’re trying to make out we’re improving the role of women in today’s society and they think we’d be better off to point out how emotionally stretched they are.”
Hugh (not his real name) says “I tell him that “73% of women between 30 and 50 claim they are time stretched as a ruse, and that the same US based study proves they are actually spending more than 34% of their working and home time on the phone talking to their girlfriends like his wife. Not getting on with things. Just whining about the state of their private little worlds. So the client says, ‘I’ll check her phone bill. If that’s what she’s doing, I’ll get back to ya.’
He rings me an hour ago and it’s on for the campaign. So I’m drinking to Science. Good luck.”
I raise an eye-brow. He gives me that wink. The ‘I’m cleverer than his bloody wife’ wink. I know instantly that he made up the ‘US study’.
Science. Where does it sit in the world of the professional marketer? No doubt my half pissed mate is a professional, he’s been making a handsome dollar out of advertising/marketing for 30 years. No doubt he’s a member of every major marketing organization in the country. But does that make him professional?
Does that make him reliable? Does that make him and what he does, most importantly for this article, remotely scientific?
You could think of yourself this way. The slightly mad scientist who has control of their environment. The marketer who has the answers. If you go through your life holding on to disciplines, that have been proven to work, like a good scientist does, would you be more likely to generate more reliable results? To be taken more seriously? To be able to hold you head up when ‘they’ ask you how the project went.
Or would you, like most marketers, just be grateful when all of the many aspects fell luckily into place and the thing worked? Or might you be the true wanker who thought because it worked, it was somehow your doing, the effect of your hard, but brilliant work?
I’m going to take a few steps sideways over the next couple of paragraphs to walk in those craggy fields of disapproval my editor for this fine publication gets himself in a sweat about. Here goes. An awful truth. Much that is written about marketing, and thus advertising, is Artifice. (The deceiving of people in a clever or subtle way. According to my Mac’s dictionary thing.) It is a rue to self promote. But what is marketing without promotion? Horse riding on donkeys?
Much that is treated as science or fact in marketing land is in fact an embellishment of the true world. Not that this is a strange thing in Australia in the 2000’s. A state of being, a time and place on this planet where almost everything is made with smoke and mirrors. Imagine say the health industry if all the facts were laid on the table in
their deserved proportions? Healthy people eating healthy food (what is it?), doing healthy things (is work healthy for you?), living to 120 with no need for doctors…. Or the legal world? Or tax law?
But it is with marketing, the raw basic world of business transactions, where attitudes are tracked, where media effectiveness is researched, where dollars are counted, that you hit the cold hard world of reality.
If it hasn’t worked you find out in marketing land. You don’t have the fall-back you do say in the Law, where you can blame a judge’s personal inclinations. In marketing, if your superiors want to, they can judge things accurately. And many do. So artifice is paper thin in Marketing land. You can fudge part of the way, but only a little bit. You can only paint over an unpleasant fact, you can’t jump over it. So Artifice must be exercised carefully and Science often rules the day.
Art or Science
But where do we draw the line between Art and Science? You can Scientifically
test strategies, opinions, pricing points, test market, blind taste test etc., but the effectiveness of a campaign will often boil down to the creative that surrounds a product or service. That’s where branding and communications come in. Which is why people like me get paid large amounts of money to twist the information in such a way that it appeals to the average Joe or the key target market for that widget.
What I’m saying is that while marketing itself is mostly a science, many of the elements of marketing require art. You can be scientific about the way you buy media, for example, but what you put in the media requires art and not just art but intelligent, manipulative, emotionally powerful art.
Drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘this is a Science issue, we can test this’ is important. It’s also vital to know when something is an Art issue, when something is personal taste and the magic of humanity takes over from a hard, raw factual approach.
‘Brands’ are art, not science
No major brands can survive if they are treated with only the cold, steel hands of Scientists. They must be loved like flowers. Tended by people who talk to them and seem silly. Who water them regularly with advertising and give them branding fertiliser, put them out in the sun. Hide them from the biting frost and the bitter wind of boards on their angry days. Real brands are grown by love – they need brand managers and marketing managers who treat them with humanity.
Marketing is science
Because you can measure and test many other elements of the marketing mix, don’t kid yourself though, Marketing, as a profession, lives on Science. Our brands may be living breathing things, like plants, but we are scientists who work on them. Exactly the same as the guys in white coats from the Department of Agriculture working on a new species of tulip.
The science of jargonisation
One of the things that messes up a good Scientific approach to marketing is using words that other people don’t understand. There are two reasons many of us do this. The first reason is because it makes a conversation with an equal working on the same project more efficient. You can shorten or nick-name anything to speed up communication. I refer to my car as the Truck, not because it is a truck, but because it is so much quicker than saying ‘the family car’ or ‘that old green Landrover Discovery I drove to work this morning…” This of course becomes messy when I’m saying to a person helping with the groceries, put them next to the truck over there…when they are staring at a car-park full of Four Wheel Drives (sorry, Sports Utility Vehicles, (SUV’s) for our US readers). That’s the good reason. The real reason many people in my game use jargon is to keep you, the listener, in your place. If you have to ask the meaning of a term, you are somehow deemed to be dumber than them, somehow deemed to need them and their information more. This is of course utter crap.
The intelligent, powerful people in the word just ride over that like an SUV over the curb as it does a U-turn in Church Street Brighton. They just say ‘What? What does that mean?’ with a look of utter distain and the marketing ‘professional’ has all their paper armour blown off them and they are left standing naked in the spotlights.
Fashion trends, branding vs. real developments
Be wary of ‘Scientific’ developments which are really just re-branding of standard practises by wily research companies or suspect ad agencies. Apply disciplines like those below; separation, repeatability, acceptance etc. before you spend large slabs of your budget on it.
How to do scientific marketing
Separate issues out
Scientists divide the issues into little bits they can test. Just using a test market as an example, they run say three campaigns, one with one approach, one with another and a third as a control or measuring exercise, to see if the environment itself has changed. We did an exercise once with the Australian Dental Association where we were testing appeals to get people to visit their dentist. We did OK, about 10% more people visited their dentist on the basis of the direct mail campaign, but the real cruncher was the control group, which fell 20% over the same period, (the economy collapse in the early 1990’s) meaning the exercise had actually improved the turnover of participating Dentists by around 30%. Important to run a control whenever you can.
Learning from others
Scientists don’t do experiments when the facts are already clearly known. (Mainly because you can’t get a paper published if the research is not original, and they get professional cudos from having paper’s published.) Small fact, big embarrassment when someone on the board says ‘but you ought to have known that, it’s in all the books.’
The basis of all good science is research. Not just test markets, but market research. Product research. Taste research. Do the bloody research. Will white sell better than blue? Will soft handles reduce fatigue? Will people still buy at $2.00 more? Why? Can we do this right across the whole product range? Etc.
Never be scared of going back into the market for another bite at the research apple. If all research saves you money, second slices invariably save you most. Particularly if you’re testing creative or promotions. Second test markets too are often ignored at your peril. Board’s often can’t countenance more research, (Why didn’t you do this the first time? Why didn’t you ask for that budget three months ago?) but boards are often plain stupid when it comes to sensible, effective marketing.
Standard Operating Procedures
SOP’s are boring but absolutely essential for successful companies. They stop the idiots making basic mistakes. Your ‘systems’ are simply lots of SOP’s bolted together to fill in a team’s day. Developing SOP’s from trial and error (Science) and research (Science) and then having people follow them, is the basis of all true success.
If it works, can you repeat it?
Back to the little line above you probably ignored. If you can’t repeat it, it ain’t Science. It isn’t a fact. It’s luck. It’s an unusual event. It’s possible it’s even art. But the mere fact that something worked once does not make it the right thing to do again. If you can’t repeat it again, exactly, and get the same result, it’s not Science.
Is it an accepted practise?
After many people have done the same thing and they have always more or less got the same result, like long copy in direct mail pieces or a PS at the end of the letter, it becomes a standard accepted practise. Accepted practise is, no doubt, the culmination of a science approach.
When is Science not Science?
The real problem of course is that many aspects of Marketing ain’t often scientifically measurable. You have two radically opposing worlds colliding with each other day in day out. The science requires the art to work. The art doesn’t give a fig about the science. When you are testing, separate out the art from the science wherever you can. If you can, test the art itself in a scientific way. This sounds easy to do. It’s very hard to do well.
Science as an approach gives you certainty in an otherwise slippery world. This reduces risk and improves performance, most of the time. If you can say to your compatriots, “We know this and this, but it’s this bit we’re unsure about”, you are suddenly not a bullshit artist. You are suddenly not someone they can mess with. The people on boards are usually there because what comes out of their mouths, most of the time, is fact. “Sales are down. This is a problem. Legal fees are up. This is a problem. We spent $10 million last month on tractor tyres and we don’t operate any tractors. This is a problem.“
If you can give these people inarguable facts that show progress, they will leave you alone to get on with your job. People trust people who seem to know what they are doing, regardless of the reality of the situation.
Separate out Science (facts) from Art where you can, sell them on the idea that you are reducing risk by taking a Science-based approach to marketing issues and they will let you get on with it, most of the time. If that doesn’t work blame the artists, the ad agency, and then call me.