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The obsession with easily quantified date crowds out the need for discretion and judgement.
Two examples illustrate the resulting issues. First is the experience of Terry Leahy who, when he was head of marketing at Tesco, analysed the performance of their gluten-free products. The sales data hinted it was an under-performing section – those that bought gluten-free goods only spent a few pounds on these items each shopping trip. A naive interpretation suggested de-listing them to free up valuable shelf space.
However, sceptical of the number, Leahy interviewed gluten-free shoppers and discovered that their choice of supermarket was determined by the availability of those products. They didn’t want to make multiple shopping trips, so the visited whoever had the specialist goods. After all, every shop had milk and eggs but only sone stocked gluten-free goods. Leahy used this insight to launch Tesco’s hugely successful “Free From” range long before the competition.
One successful example was Sainsbury’s in 2004 who realised much supermarket shopping was done in a daze. “Sleep shopping” as they termed it. Shoppers were buying the same items week in, week out — restricting themselves to the same 150 items despite there being 30,000 on offer.
AMV BBDO, Sainsbury’s creative agency, went to great lengths to dramatise the extent of sleep shopping. They hired a man dressed in a gorilla suit and sent him to a Sainsbury’s to do his week’s shopping. They questioned shoppes as they were leaving the store and a surprisingly low percentage had noticed him. When shoppers are on autopilot it’s hard to grab their attention.
Excerpt from: The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton
Another example, this time involving Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, didn’t have such a happy ending. Opta data showed that his star defender, Jaap Stam, was making fewer tackles each season. Ferguson promptly offloaded him in August 2001 to Lazio — keen to earn a high transfer fee before the decline became apparent to rival clubs.
However, Stam’s career blossomed in Italy and Ferguson realised his error — the lower number of tackles was a sign of Stam’s improvement, not decline. He was losing the ball less and intercepting more passes that he needed to make fewer tackles. Ferguson says selling Stam was the biggest mistake of his managerial career. From then on he refused to be seduced by simplistic data.
These criticisms don’t mean you should disregard tracking data. Expecting any methodology to be perfect is to burden it with unreasonable expectations. Instead, you need to be aware that it merely provides evidence to which you need to apply your discretion and judgement.
If Rudder’s study hunted at lying, the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle (NATSAL) categorically confirms it. The survey, conducted among 15,000 respondents by UCL and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is the gold standard of research. In 2010 it found that British heterosexual women admit to a mean of eight sexual partners, compared to twelve for men. The difference is logically impossible. If everyone is telling the truth the mean for each gender must be the same.
All of this foes to show that advertisers trying to understand their customers have a problem: if they listen uncritically to consumers, they’ll be misled.