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Scientific Advertising and its Impact on Sales

If you’re not in the discipline of Marketing, you may not know there’s an on-going debate whether art or science is more important to producing good results. While there is clear evidence the pendulum has swung from Mad Men to Math Men, I’ve always believed both are required for true success. The real issue is that the art and science of Marketing must come together and not be isolated disciplines.

In fact, this debate isn’t even really new. In 1923 Claude Hopkins wrote a book called Scientific Advertising which includes this passage:

“[…] advertising is traced down to the fraction of a penny. The cost per reply and cost per dollar of sale show up with utter exactness. One ad is compared with another, one method with another. Headlines, settings, sizes, arguments and pictures are compared. To reduce the cost of results even one percent means much in some advertising. So no guesswork is permitted. One must know what is best.”

That doesn’t really sound like Don Draper, does it?

Scientific Advertising might be the best book ever written on advertising. David Ogilvy himself allegedly said “Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times. It changed the course of my life.”

Hopkins reminds us the only purpose of advertising is to make sales and that advertising fails when it’s designed from the seller’s point of view, rather than the buyer’s. In his words:

“The reason for most of the non-successes in advertising is trying to sell people what they do not want. […] Ads are planned and written with some utterly wrong conception. They are written to please the seller. The interest of the buyer is forgotten. One can never sell goods profitably, in person or in print, when that attitude exists.”

As a discipline, I worry we’ve forgotten that advertising is supposed to lead to sales. Too much of it feels like ad agencies just trying to demonstrate their creativity or one-up other agencies. All art, no science. And all too often, people remember the ad but forget the product.

Here’s a quick unscientific survey: think back to a Super Bowl ad you saw and ask yourself whether you’ve bought the product since then. Let me know in the comments.

This blog was originally posted on Manage by Walking Around on February 22, 2015.

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  • Here is another valuable read, if you are interested in the topic:

    Alex Pentland (2014): Social Physics. How Good Ideas Spread – The Lessons From a New Science.

  • Shouldn’t the product/service itself be designed from a buyers/users point of view before it is being advertised?

    Then it would be just the next logical step to also design the advertising from a buyer’s point of view and by nature avoid pitfalls you mention in your article. This requires of course a holistic product marketing approach throughout an organization which considers the whole lifecycle from on early product definition instead of degrading marketing to a downstream communication machine which is too often the case.

    Even the smartest advertising won’t lead to sustainable results if the product/services finally don’t meet buyers’/users’ needs.