66% of 37% of numbers are made up by 45% of people who have a 93% chance of getting away with it.

It always amazes me our obsession with numbers, especially for a creative industry that knows that consumers are emotional creatures who don’t buy based on rational numbers.

We put so much value on what are often valueless figures. As a business owner, I don’t want to hear about how many clients may have seen my latest new business mailer, or the opportunity to see it, or even the number who opened the email, what the ‘perpensity’ or ‘intent’ is. What I want to know is… how many new business meeting did we get and how many converted? Because I can’t pay the rent or staff on Monopoly numbers.


I sometimes feel we have slipped into the Media Matrix, a world of numbers that has created a false reality that we now believe, so much so, we find it hard to believe the truth. But then what is truth any more?

Big Data is all the buzz, and yes data can be great and if properly analysed can create insights and help inform decisions, thought it should never make the decision. But that’s real data, it’s different from so many vacuous numbers thrown around.


Lets take this simple fact: 88.5% of retail spend happens in the real world – where we shop, eat, drink, have fun, socialize, etc. The high street is certainly not dead. Only 11.5% happens on-line, and according to the Office for National Statistics, who you can trust, it’ll only be 12.5% by 2018.

So if you were running retail business, where would you advertise? Where people are spending 88.5% of their money… or on-line? I’m not saying one is better than another, all media channels have their merit, but what all brands want to do is to get close to the customer.

But if they are being fed false numbers, I’ve picked up a number of false claims about on-line retail spend being almost 50%, which is stupid as 70% of what’s sold in the high street can’t be sold on line – anything that delivers a service, requires real human interaction, etc.   When was the last time you drank with friends on-line? Or had your hair cut on-line? Or dined out on-line? And now the high street is fighting back with service, because that’s really crap on line.

When it was revealed that almost half of Justine Bieber’s fans were fake, the papers had a field day. Social Media folk probably thought, “what’s the big deal, we’re all at it?”

Only recently I caught a client out in a social media numbers lie. When you know what to look for it’s easy to see that they have been buying YouTube views, also given away but dramatic peaks with no reason and the fact not one person out of 800,000 viewers had commented in a month. It’s no wonder 79% of marketers don’t trust social media numbers or that a large percentage admitted they’d cheat the system if put under pressure. (Those figure are actually true.)

One of my favourite bubbles I like to burst, sorry for my honesty, is the myth that chat about brands is all on-line.  The stark reality is, word of mouth ‘mostly’ happens off-line

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science has shown that to achieve growth, brands must create word of mouth beyond core fan groups – meaning marketers should not focus solely on communities such as Facebook.

According to a study by Deloite, even they state that ‘most advocacy takes place offline and happens in person’. According to the Journal of Advertising Research, 75 % of all consumer conversations about brands happen face-to-face, while 15% happen by phone and just 10% percent on-line’. This is further backed up by research by Keller Fay.

Umm, that’s not what a social media agency told me recently. So why are so many brands spending more on on-line WOM than off-line WOM? Because they want to believe the numbers.


The next big area all clients want to be in is mobile. They want to connect with consumers via mobile platforms (mainly website or apps). Of course this frenetic gold rush is stimulated by a simple numeric fact that most of us have a phone, over 30.9m smartphones alone in the UK (60% of the overall UK population). By 2017, 98% of 12-44 year olds will have a smartphone. And it’s with us 24/7. So surely all we need to do is market down it at you and you’ll buy brand X.  If only it was that easy.  (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOL3FoncDIE)

In case you are about to sign off on your mobile marketing budget for 2014, here’s a bit of factual advice. Firstly you need to have a combined on-mobile and off-mobile strategy. Yep, just like on-line and off-line.

On-mobile is great if the customer has opted in and allows you to keep the customer informed, send them discounts and maintain a relationship. But if they haven’t, be warned, 83% hate push messaging in any form – banner ads to SMS. On-mobile also suffers from another simple challenge, the space is just too small to make any impact. Imaging if  ‘Hello Boys’ had launched on a 8mm x 50mm banner ad on an app, I don’t think we’d be talking about it somehow.

Off-mobile is best called ‘Proximity Mobile Marketing’ (PMM) because it markets to consumers in the proximity of spend – ie the high street, malls, bars, venues, etc –  and is better received by consumers. It can utilise a whole range of different media and mediums and proximity technologies.

If you get the messaging and creative right (relevance by the way is not enough) consumers will come to you and opt in to download, go to you website, get you app, etc. And now that technologies like NFC can be found on poster sites (like Adshels) and can be used in POS, it’s so easy, you just have to touch your smartphone on a tag to connect, so why wouldn’t you? That’s called pull and means you start the relationship off on a positive footing.

Proximity Mobile Marketing’ is estimated to be an industry worth $9bn across Europe within the next few years, equal in spend to outdoor and to mobile. And no doubt, that 9 number is making some people ask, “how can we get into PMM?”


Of course when it comes to numbers we never trust politicians, journalists, used car salesmen or estate agents, because we know they will twist anything to cheat us. Yet somehow, we end up knowingly buy the lie, and worse, justifying it.

But despite my deep interest in consumer psychology, I still puzzle at why we prefer numbers over reality, instinct and intelligence. Is it, as some suggest, just fear? We know if we have a number it protects us. Are we all just cowards? I can understand that when talking about bankers, but people who go into advertising seek adventure, fame, want to push the boundaries – well that’s what I thought and what attracted me.

I remember when I worked at one well known agency, we had a directive from New York asking us for results for a recent TV campaign. “Who gives a s***,” commented the account director, “we made £150k from the client.” In one way at least he’d cut to the chase and pointed out that the only number that mattered to the agency was the profit.

And of course, when you don’t have any real numbers you can always use what I’ve seen on too many award entries, “it exceeded the client’s expectations by 50%.”


So as we roll through the last quarter of 2013 here is my bold suggesting for those braver agencies and clients for next year… make 2014 a no bull numbers year.

Focus on only those numbers that matter – customers gained, customer spend, and profit. “Make the important measurable, not the measurable important.”

Forget any social media numbers like, views or Tweets, or meaningless numbers like “intent to purchase” and cut to the outcome and ask the simple question, “so what business did we gain?” Because if we focus on outcomes, we’ll be better businessmen and better marketers.