I have always found it curious that advertising and marketing seem to operate at opposite ends of the spectrum as far as numerical rigor tends to go.
While developing an advertising idea, the emphasis is always on the softer side of consumer behaviour: insights, aspirations, fears, need-states, beliefs, values. But a marketing plan has little patience for these. The currency on this side of the fence is often more quantitative: reach, impressions, frequency, recall, cut- through, impact.
And in this duality often lie the origins of the oldest of all client-agency conflicts: Clients finding agencies frivolous and superficial and Agencies finding clients just downright anal.
While much has been said and written about the state of advertising today and the reasons for its decline (if this is true at all), this piece focuses on the other end of the stick – why advertisers could do with being a bit more adventurous.
The need to quantify everything is honestly quite understandable. Quantification helps simplify. That which can be measured, can be managed. And eventually, if you are granular enough, the need for personal judgment can be fully eliminated.
Most businesses are built on this kind of granular measurement. The more robust your metrics, the more profitable you are likely to be.
Take retail for example. Daily measurement of retail sales can give you several advantages over weekly measurement. You can act quicker, stock better and sell more. On the Internet, the every successful business model has sharply pointed measurement at its heart. From Google to Amazon, the more you know the patterns of each individual customer, the more successful your business is likely to be. Similar parallels can be drawn for almost any manufacturing or service industry. More data and more measurement, applied correctly, invariably leads to better decisions.
The structures and processes of most organizations reflect this fact. A mountain of data backs every decision. Sometimes to clarify, sometimes to simplify and sometimes to merely absolve all personal responsibility.
It is natural therefore that this same mindset extends to evaluating advertising.
We use focus groups to measure likeability. We use insights to predict persuasiveness. We plan media to enforce effectiveness. And yet, in spite of it all, we know what happens to half the money we famously spend on advertising.
A marketing plan is widely thought to be a scientific document with a clearly predictable outcome. A marketing manager is expected to accurately predict the level of cut-through or affinity or what-have-you the brand will achieve post the ad campaign. And most marketing plans are an elaborate exercise in masking the basic fact that such a prediction is at best an educated guess and at worst merely a wild throw of dice. Because none of our marketing plans account for the most important ingredient that makes a great campaign – creative risk.
No great creative leap has ever been made with there having been an equally big chance of spectacular failure. Advertising’s more glamorous cousin, Bollywood is well aware of this fact. So is everyone in the television industry. Advertisers would do well to understand this and learn to be comfortable with it.
Unless marketing managers are incentivized to take risks, their strike rate with great advertising will not improve. Only a continuous and sustained appetite for trying the unexplored can eventually lead to a breakthrough. And no, it can neither be measured nor be predicted. Not by the agency, not by the client and certainly not by moderators conducting group discussions.
Organizations need to consider not just backing such behaviour but rewarding it. Maybe instead of measuring results, we need to measure the risk taken. Maybe incentivizing attempts over outcomes will help. Like Bravery Awards for Marketing.