Advertising effectiveness 1: the dilemma

We all know it’s difficult to measure the effectiveness of advertising (and all the content that ordinary people also call advertising).  There’s a fundamental conundrum in it.

To evaluate marketing, you have to have an influence model.  Mostly this takes the form of something like a sales funnel.  A bit like this: you create awareness, leading to an attitude shift, greater brand consideration and ultimately purchases.  Sounds perfectly sensible.  This has been the prevailing wisdom since the twenties when Starch and Gallup started researching these things.

The problem is that’s not what happens.

Neuroscience tells us that brand decisions are made instinctively in the reptilian brain or by using heuristics.  We simply don’t go through that deliberative process the sales funnel describes, to learn the messages being communicated.  When did you last spend some quality time considering the competing claims of two brands in a category you don’t care about?

Behavioural economics demonstrates that we make our choices on all kinds of irrational grounds.  Future outcomes are discounted.  Loss aversion takes priority over likely gain.  Choices are dependent on how they’re framed.  It’s all very different to the straight line thinking that traditional economics and the sales funnel assumes.

So traditional methods are dodgy at best.  But they have what Charles Channon, many years ago, termed ‘organisational validity’.  Which means they hold sway with your boss even though they’re pants.

Neuroscience has thrown up some interesting research methods which short=circuit this imaginary reasoning process, so there’s some hope for improvement, but it tends to be used as an interesting add-on to existing approaches.  In the future, someone may make this work.

Until then there’s a choice between no explanation at all or one we know is wrong.  That’s the dilemma.


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