Join the campaign against the squishies

ipa“A widespread promiscuous devotion to the untrue”

This is how best-selling writer Kurt Anderson describes post truth Trump’s America.  In his recent best-selling book Fantasyland he argues that regarding facts as optional is deep rooted and centuries old in his homeland.

His argument runs like this: The founding fathers fled an England that was too religiously tolerant for their beliefs and sought a new land where nobody would mock them for their delusions and dreams.  Creating new truths began in the 17th century and has never stopped.  Its no co-incidence, according to Anderson, that America produced Disneyland or that creationism is still popular.  Americans are great at fantasy.  Facts, he claims, are too often perceived as merely another version of the truth.  “America was the dreamworld creation of fantasist, some religious and some out to get rich quick, all with freakish appetite for the amazing.”  He is fearful of the consequences of this for the world.  A world where opinion is as valid as hard evidence.  Here’s one of Anderson’s more recent examples of this: ‘“Do you think that talking about millions of illegal votes is dangerous to this country without presenting the evidence? the anchor of ABC World News Tonight asked President Trump.  “No,” he replied, “not at all!  Not at all – because many people feel the same way that I do.”’

Are we, in the ad industry, ever in danger of confusing hard evidence and beliefs?

At 2018’s IPA Effectiveness Week conference Libby Child presented research into marketing effectiveness culture across the industry where over half the respondents rated the abilities of their organisations at 6 or less (out of 10).  Furthermore prevailing ‘Marketing Effectiveness Culture’ is short term in its focus. It is not yet the norm for it to be aligned across the whole company or for formal kpis to be shared across the board.  So sometimes budgets are spent against the more easily judged short term rather than in the long term in terms of brand health and for a sustainable business model.

There was a trend a few years ago about “the wisdom of the crowd”.  Surely if most people around you believed something then that would be better than the opinion of an elite group of experts?  This can be seen as part of a “Fantasyland” continuum; where someone hears what they would prefer to believe, and then is served social media feeds which reassuringly echo rather than challenge their views.

Every aspect of a comms plan must have a rationale, backed by evidence.  That evidence must be substantive and independent.  To make any decision because that’s where other brands are spending or on the basis of media owner information that is not third party verified may be entering the Fantasyland delusion.

There is always room for instinct, for gut feel and for making a decision because of belief in the potential of a media idea that is unproven yet.  But this should be done in the conscious knowledge that it is a valid test and experiment with proper accountable measurements.

Fantasyland can be dangerous.  Anderson calls out some opinion formers as “Squishies, people intellectually or temperamentally disinclined to tell people they’re full of shit when they are, who have lost their stomach for the fight against the multiplying and empowered Believers.”

The IPA Effectiveness movement stands out against the Squishies.  Now a global initiative it is dedicated to broadening the bank of knowledge from more brands and more disciplines.  As Convenor of the 2020 awards I’m hoping that more agencies than ever this year can find the time to enter to ensure the triumph of evidence based marketing.






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