Thursday, 1 November 2012


The business of advertising is particularly rife with delusions

We think we know how advertising works. We think we know what will motivate people and what

will not. And yet, every day we unconsciously filter out compelling evidence

that what we think we know is terribly flawed. After months of "research"

and "testing" we create TV spots that have no effect. After hundreds of thousand

of dollars in development we launch websites and online campaigns that no one

ever sees. And yet we continue. We go into new business presentations and

make bold, cocksure statements about our own particular brand of delusional

advertising philosophy. And we never have the guts or self-assurance to tell the

truth -- that all our posturing is just an estimate of likelihoods and a

speculation on probabilities. Part of it is our fault. We are not

willfully deceitful. We just find it very hard to admit that we are devoting so

much of our energy and our soul to something about which we really understand so

little. Part of it is the environment. Our clients want results. They

don't want to hear that they are spending millions of dollars on likelihoods and

probabilities. Advertising is chock full of contingencies and unintended

effects. There are a multitude of critical steps in the development of strategy,

creative concepts, media plans, and spending alternatives. None of which assures

success. Every one of which can foreshadow failure. Something as routine

as the casting of a photo shoot or TV spot can have an enormous effect on the

success or failure of a campaign. And that is just one of a thousand equally

weighty variables. We cannot possibly assess all the variables in a methodical

way. So we fall back on our prejudices and our mathematical models of how

advertising works. In other words, we call forth our delusions. The

workings of the real world are impossibly complex and messy. And in advertising,

as in every other human endeavor, we "prefer to turn a blind eye to reality's


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