The new age of honesty

It’s not far away but 2014 could be the dawn of a new age of honesty in marketing. There are many theories about cycles but what seems always to be true is that cycles exist and what goes up then goes down, what is in one minute is out the next. Currently we are in an age of virtual numbers so it’s only a matter of time before we see a backlash and a return to real values.

Of course you can blame the politicians, after all they created the ‘Numeric Society’ – a world where the only values are numbers, even when those numbers have no real value at all. Worse, almost everything they have applied numbers to is worse for it.

The question, are we putting too much importance on vacuous measures like ‘intent’, ‘impressions’, ‘opportunity to see’ and any social media number? Almost certainly, yes.

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The change back to more honesty will be in part because, as with social media, it’s rife with spin and even fraud – just look at the expose about Justin Bierber (and most other top stars) faking up Twitter numbers. The Channel 4 programme on click farms and the fact we all know buying social media numbers is cheap, easy and rampant.

More seriously, it’s only a matter of time before CFOs and shareholders are questioning what value all the millions spent across marketing is really delivering. Bugger all in some cases. It happen in the late 90’s in the US and gave a turbo boost to the DM industry who were far more well equipped to deliver numbers than the TV agencies.

I was reading about the Dove ‘Sketches’ campaign, a campaign about honesty, and how it got 170 million* views online (I haven’t been able to verify this) and 4.7 billion global media impressions. How it won 19 Lions in Cannes 2013. Impressive, but nowhere is there one mention about sales figures, increased distribution or increased brand awareness.

Recently I heard how one senior marketer was presenting this case study and when asked at the end about what contributions it made to sales, he didn’t know! How could you get on stage and not know? Even a dumb politician would have expected that question. We’re in marketing after all, aren’t we?

Well maybe not. David Bernbach said that we were “glorified salesmen,” while Leo Burnett, a man who believed that the end game of our profession was selling said, “If it doesn’t sell it isn’t creative.” Well the answer to that today is, “no problem if it doesn’t sell we have a load of measures that make it look good to your boss.” And here lies areal danger that could give critics even more ammunition against us.

Many years ago I was doing the key note speech at a major research conference and spoke to many researchers afterwards. What shocked me was best summed up by one of their comments, “We are in the business of providing clients with insights that allow them to make informed decisions but in reality we spend 90% of our time justifying bad, ill informed decisions to protect their lazy arses.” A strong view but coming from a researcher, probably a well informed one.

Now not all clients are as described, but if the social norm of the industry is to put value on vacuous measures, then why worry about sales? Of course the smart ones start to question, discuss and rebel. Finally the bubble bursts and we see a return to real values, real measures.

One area I predict will see a defining of true values, as it’s growing, will be Proximity Marketing*. It’s an area that is all about marketing close to where consumers buy, so sales results matter.

Fact: 83% of consumer retail spend is offline where people shop, eat, drink, have fun, socialise… so it’s no wonder this is an area estimated to be worth up to $9bn across Europe within a few years. (Even by 2018 on-line retail sales will only be 12.5% according to the Government’s official figures.) And because it’s close to sale, they only real numbers that matter are those that lead to a purchase.

It’s easy to say a shop window delivers an ‘impression’ or claim anyone looking in a window equals a ‘view’ or ‘intent’. Or a car driving by is an ‘opportunity to see,’ I think you get the picture. But what really matters is how many people actually enter the shop and buy. That is what marketing is all about.

Of course there’s a journey – raising brand awareness, defining values, acquisition, etc, but that’s all about delivering the end goal. If your end goal is only half way along the journey, what’s the incentive to finish it?

Personally, I feel there is too much dishonesty in numbers these days, deliberate or not, with little real benefits to clients (though loads to the agencies). We need to be honest to ourselves, to our clients, to their shareholders, to the public and to return to Legal, Decent… and of course,  Honest (as the ASA use to say).


• Just to add a small but interesting fact here, Judson Laipply’s Evolution of Dance hit over 226 million views on just one posting (there are many) and it didn’t drive up sales of dancing lessons.

Proximity Mobile Marketing – to find out more visit

  • Gordon Macmillan

    | thought there was going to be a punchline. There kind of was, George Galloway a force for good? Hugh you are joking.  Four times married “gorgeous” George who attacked his rival candidate because he drank alcohol during his campaign, who has a slavish love affair with terrorist group Hamas, who saluted Sadam Hussein (“Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability”; a man who used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and the Kurds.

    When British and Allied forces were removing the Taliban from Afghanistan, Galloway proclaimed “the Taliban are not the enemy for me”. A terror group who kill women, children, murder teachers who teach girls and blow up schools. Nice people.

    A man who moves around the country like a snake oil seller, carpet bagging from city to city in the hope of winning a seat.

    Hugh i think you are confusing the idea that independents can be a force for good with people are an actual force for good. Galloway is nothing of the sort.

    But why listento men, it was the late Christopher Hitchens who summed up Galloway, perfectly:

    “This man’s search for a tyrannical fatherland never ends. The Soviet Union’s let him down, Albania’s gone, the Red Army’s out of Afghanistan and Czechoslovakia, Saddam has been overthrown….(but) the hunt never ends!”

    • boru

      your full of it, pure fox news rubbish

  • Hugh Salmon

    Because of Galloway’s litigious past, and respecting this is not my website, I did not want to analyse his policies or make judgements on ‘the man’ or his views on Brand Republic. I have left this to you, the reader (possibly the only one!).
    My point is that Galloway, in Bradford West, persuaded the voters to flock to him in droves – not the opposition parties. Our political system is so rotten (see posts passim) that you cannot ignore this and, in a democracy, you have to ‘respect’ this achievement.
    Clearly, I hope that other ‘Independent’ candidates, perhaps with views closer to yours expressed below, and more integrity than our careerist party politicians, will find it easier to break through because of what Galloway has achieved.
    That is why I have tried to separate the ‘brand’ from the ‘man’ and kept my own views on the man to myself and away from my central point – which is that he persuaded voters to tear themselves away from their old tribal loyalties, or apathy, both of which I witnessed first hand at the last Election and posted on this site at the time.

    • boru

      your a coward