Even today, Einstein's ideas about gravity and the speed of light are still being tested and scrutinized.
Not so in advertising and marketing. If enough big mouths say the same things loud enough and often enough they quickly become facts.
As most readers know, I am highly skeptical of many of the claims made about the magical powers of digital advertising.
The other night it occurred to me that perhaps a good analogy for the effectiveness of digital communication in advertising is the effectiveness of digital communication in education. While there are obviously some huge differences, there are also some similarities.
Marketing experts have been warning us that unless we commit ourselves fully to digital technology, we will die. Similarly, education experts have been saying that digital communication technology is the only way to dig ourselves out of the education mess we have created.
In 1997, a committee appointed by then President Bill Clinton, which included Charles Vest, president of MIT and Charles Young, ceo of Hewlett-Packard, warned us that we had an urgent need to bring computer technology to our classrooms. The fact that there was inadequate research on the effectiveness of classroom computers didn't bother them. They concluded...
They, too, were in a big "do or die" hurry.
In addition to issuing hysterical warnings about the dire consequences of not adopting their pet panaceas, educators and marketers also face challenges that are similar.
First, they have to decide what to do with a fixed and limited budget. Would a school district get better results for its money by hiring more teachers, putting computers in classrooms, paying for more teacher training, buying more books, or doing any number of other things with its budget?
Similarly, would a marketer get better results by hiring more sales people, buying a spot on the Super Bowl, doing trade incentives, creating an online advertising program, or doing something else with their money?
A second resemblance is that digital technology seems attractive in both cases because not only does it promise a new way of communicating, it also promises a more engaged participant. The undeniable allure of technology is assumed to create a more engaged individual -- whether that individual is a student or a consumer.
Finally, in both cases digital technology also presumably provides a more interactive experience -- an end to the one-way communication style of teacher-to-student or marketer-to-consumer.
With those parallels in mind I started to do some research to see how wired classrooms were doing. The results were enlightening.
From a paper called "No Access, No Use, No Impact: Snapshot by Shopping Sidekick Plugin issued jointly by researchers from the University of Michigan and The University of North Texas, we learn...
From The New York Times piece entitled "Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops" we learn...
"After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none," said Mark Lawson, the school board president...
...the United States Department of Education released a study showing no difference in academic achievement between students who used educational software programs for math and reading and those who did not...
In one of the largest ongoing studies, the Texas Center for Educational Research, a nonprofit group, has so far found no overall difference on state test scores between 21 middle schools where students received laptops in 2004, and 21 schools where they did not.
In a second NYTimes article called "In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores", we learn...
...the district’s use of technology has earned it widespread praise. It is upheld as a model of success by the National School Boards Association, which in 2008 organized a visit by 100 educators from 17 states who came to see how the district was innovating.
The digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer, wandering among students who learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices.
Advocates for giving schools a major technological upgrade — which include powerful educators, Silicon Valley titans and White House appointees — say digital devices let students learn at their own pace, teach skills needed in a modern economy and hold the attention of a generation weaned on gadgets.
The techno-crowd in both the education and advertising industry have a lot in
They are very strong in their assertions, and very weak on proof.
They continue to inflate the hysterical threat-of-not-accepting-their-solution language, despite
contradictory data.They think anecdotes are evidence.
When data does not support their position, they jump to false goals -- like
the dubious engagementargument.There is a lesson to be learned here. Whether you are
selling cheeseburgers, trying to lift the educational achievement of children, or
operating in any other field of endeavor, technology has so far proven to be no
substitute for strategy.