A view from Dave Trott: The Chairman's Wife Syndrome
A view from Dave Trott

The Chairman's Wife Syndrome

In New York, they used to have an expression for the way clients buy ads from agencies.

It was called the Chairman’s Wife Syndrome.

Imagine the chairman of a big company in Manhattan.

One day, his wife comes into town to go shopping.

She decides to drop by his office so he can take her to lunch.

While she’s there, she notices all the young girls around the office.

All in their twenties, tall and thin, wearing hot pants.

She notices most of the men are looking at these girls as they bend over the Xerox machine.

It’s obvious that men find hot pants very attractive.

Probably her husband does too.

So the chairman’s wife goes out and buys herself some hot pants.

But she’s 50 years old, a bit tubby, with blue-rinse hair.

The hot pants don’t look the same on her as they did on the tall, thin, 20-year-olds.

Her husband says he doesn’t like her wearing hot pants.

But why not, she says – you liked them on the girls at the office, why don’t you like them on me?

This is the Chairman’s Wife Syndrome.

You see something in one situation, displayed perfectly, without any reference to where it’s actually going to run – and it looks terrific.

But in the real situation, it doesn’t work at all.

Say the agency is presenting a poster to the client.

They carefully lay it out on the table in the presentation room.

They have time to slowly read every word of copy, to discuss the complicated, subtle visual.

After an hour or so, everyone agrees it works well.

But then the poster runs on a street in Clapham, in the rain, at night.

And everyone wonders why it doesn’t work at all.

Nowadays, the Chairman’s Wife Syndrome is mostly true of online advertising.

It’s displayed, studied and carefully discussed at length in the presentation room.

But that’s not where, or how, it’s going to run.

The Internet Advertising Bureau standard for viewability is this: 50% of the pixels visible for one second.

But Drew Huening of Accuen said: "In mobile, people are scrolling very quickly, so we’re not reaching that one-second threshold."

Just register that: people aren’t even seeing your ad for one second.

But it’s worse than that.

Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice-president of ads, said it counted an impression as: "More than zero pixels onscreen for more than zero seconds."

Remember that: the target is to see one pixel for one second.

So the proper way to judge your online ads isn’t to present them carefully and discuss them thoughtfully.

That’s just like looking at hot pants on tall, thin 20-year-olds.

But that’s not where, or how, they’re going to run.

The proper way to judge your online ads is to slide them across the presentation room table as fast as you can.

Then hide them and see what you can remember.

According to the IAB’s own standards, that’s the proper way to judge digital advertising.

That way, you can see what the hot pants will look like on the chairman’s wife before you spend your budget buying her a pair.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.