I’m a great believer in the value of research, but I’m dismayed by the frequency with which findings are distorted in order to endorse or support a particular agenda.

As I’ve noted before,

“Torture numbers and they’ll tell you anything.*”

So it was with interest that I read this headline in MediaWeek:

“Survey: Consumers Don’t Hate Ads”

After reading the article, I dug a little deeper into the source material – the recently published “Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey: Trust, Value and Engagement in Advertising.”

It’s full of great data, and I’ve been looking forward to this latest iteration of the bi-annual survey.

However, there are two areas in this year’s report that disturbed me.

The first is the conclusion that inspired the MediaWeek headline:

“Consumer perceptions on the value of advertising
are generally positive.”

Let’s look at the data that ‘support’ that conclusion [click the image to enlarge]:

[image taken directly from Nielsen's report]

[image from Nielsen’s report]

You’ll notice that these statements are framed as ‘facts’.

But when the report draws its conclusions on these findings, it states:

“We asked if advertising…

  • increases value for consumers (through competition);
  • promotes consumer choice (helping consumers exercise their right to choose)
  • powers economic growth (by helping companies succeed)
  • creates jobs (through economic growth and as an industry in itself);
  • is the lifeblood of media (funding a diverse, pluralistic media landscape);
  • funds sports and culture (through sponsorship);
  • helps make a difference (through public service advertisements);
  • often gets my attention and is entertaining.”

These ‘questions’ are quite different to the statements in the chart above.

So, do the data really show that “consumer perceptions on the value of advertising are generally positive”?

I’m not convinced.

My second issue relates to a regular concern [again, click the image to enlarge]:

nielsen trust in media 2009 02

[image from Nielsen’s report]

You probably know what’s coming…

“Peer recommendation is the most trusted [advertising] channel, trusted “completely” or “somewhat” by 9 out of 10 respondents worldwide.”

I’ve talked about this before.

‘Peer Recommendation’ / ‘WOM’ / ‘Consumer Opinions Posted Online’ / ‘Editorial Content’ are not advertising channels.

Rather, they are all consequences of other marketing activities.

People trust them precisely because they’re not advertising.

In their true form, they’re unbiased, and that’s what makes them persuasive and trustworthy.

Sure, brands have tried to hijack them and use them as channels, but that invariably generates mistrust rather than trust, as evidenced here.

I don’t dispute the value of word of mouth, but we need to accept that it’s not advertising; brands cannot ‘buy’ these ‘channels’ any more than they can ‘buy’ sales.

Having raised these two concerns though, I fully encourage you to download a copy of Nielsen’s report and study the numbers for yourself.

So long as you approach them with an open mind and an unbiased agenda, you’ll find them highly informative and very useful.

[As a side note, perhaps we should see the report’s conclusions in the context of  this post]

*Thanks again to Kelvin for this wonderful quote.

6 Responses to “propagandata”

  1. 1 John Barton July 21, 2009 at 10:12

    Do you think that headlines like “Survey: Consumers Don’t Hate Ads” reflects an insecurity in what we do as media/marketing/advertising types? I think maybe it does, but I don’t think we need to be apologist about advertising if we strive to produce relevant, useful and targeted ads. It does mean a lot more diligence, measurement and thinking however.

  2. 2 eskimon July 21, 2009 at 11:01

    It’s funny, John – I was thinking the same thing while I read both the survey report and the MediaWeek article.

    The wording in both pieces seems to suggest that the authors were surprised by the findings – that they didn’t expect everyday people to like advertising.

    Your point about being apologetic is particularly pertinent. Advertising certainly has a role to play in people’s lives, just as brands do. As long as we deliver value to the audience through our advertising (by delivering a communications proposition), we’re adding to society. But we’ve got to stop indulging ourselves and our clients in ‘appendage comparison’ advertising, because nobody else cares.

    We’ll be more successful if we focus on the value we offer audiences, rather than on shouting about how wonderful we are. And as you rightly suggest, that means more thinking.

  3. 3 Thomas November 25, 2010 at 15:03

    There’s even more about this type of research and interpretation that I don’t like too much.

    First of all, as you said already, the first statements are stated as facts. I’d go so far as to say these are fundamentally leading statements, which too me is unethical research practice. Where’s the: “by spending shitloads of money on advertising products get usually get more expensive for consumers” question?

    My former prof did lots of research on the topic and what he found out is that advertising in general is disliked (not to say hated) by pretty much everybody (in Germany that was), but that at the same time, the same people have lots and lots of good stories to tell about specific ads. That’s the stuff that spreads, gets talked about or provides some other value … But that stuff needs the 90% of shit to stand out.

    As for the recommendations, I wholeheartedly agree. What’s even worse is when research asks people to name the most effective source and – very surprisingly – they name WOM. I mean, this might be true of course but asking people if they are influenced by ads? Really? …

    (Now that I wrote this I realized it is from 2009, well anyways, seems to be timeless.)

  1. 1 measures of success « eskimon Trackback on September 29, 2009 at 11:29
  2. 2 Data Don’t Tell Stories | eskimon Trackback on August 10, 2013 at 12:59

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