It depends….

Here’s another worry I have with marketing in the digital age – or any other, come to think of it.  We (well some of us) seem obsessed with providing a unitary explanation for how marketing works.

I recently attended an excellent seminar with some great speakers, each of whom described their perspective on how ‘Purpose’ was the key to marketing success.  There were case studies, award-winning campaigns and some neuroscience which purported to show that there are two key metrics which indicate the difference between success and failure.

‘Purpose’ is the solution.  Now what’s the problem.

This sort of thinking is everywhere at the moment.  Not just about ‘purpose’ but a range of supposed universal solutions.  I keep seeing research reports offering to reveal the three elements that will make your advertising memorable.  Or the five rules for achieving impact.  The claim seems to be that if you do this one thing (or these several things) it will work, whether you’re a multinational Pharma brand, a bank or an impulse purchase in the newsagent.  Somehow I don’t think it’s that simple.

Aha…. not so fast.  The final speaker (was it BBH’s former Chief Planner, Nick Kendall?) characteristically zagged, among all the zigging.  “It all depends” he said, enigmatically.

My attention was sparked.  Through the 1980s agencies railed against the ‘one-size-fits-all’ methodology which claimed there was a single metric to determine success.  In those days it was Millward Brown’s awareness index.  A decade of debate, dispute, bickering and mistrust ensued and finally, we emerged with a better way.  The ‘balanced score card’ was adopted as the route to providing a fuller and more sensitive explanation of what’s going on.

Because, and I don’t think I’m being controversial here, it’s not always the same.  At one time I worked on campaigns simultaneously for a double glazing supplier, a brand of tea bags and a paediatric analgesic.  tell me the one ‘key to success’ that’s common to those three.  It’s clearly bollocks.

So thank you, Mr Kendall, for bursting the balloon, even if it did rather spoil the party.



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