Interrogate the evidence
A view from Sue Unerman

Interrogate the evidence

When presented with research about a medium or a channel, use the TWSTWT test: They would say that wouldn't they?

In 1963 the "Profumo Affair" shook the nation.  Government minister John Profumo had been accused of "improper conduct", i.e. sleeping with a model named Christine Keeler, who simultaneously was also said to be in a relationship with a Soviet diplomat at the height of the Cold War.  The press ran a story suggesting that her affairs could be threatening national security as pillow talk from the government minister for war might be being passed to the Soviets. Keeler, who died in December, said of her life post Profumo: "I wasn’t living, I was surviving".

Initially, Profumo denied everything, with the kind of arrogance about being believed in the face of evidence that was commonplace among men of his position and class in those days.  (Perhaps too still in these days; does adland face a #metoo reckoning?) 

Eventually Profumo admitted the truth that he had lied to parliament and resigned.  Some commentators believe that this was the start of the end of the age of deference to the establishment.  The resignation of the prime minister Harold MacMillan followed within months and eventually, at the next election his Conservative party lost to Labour.

There was another man involved who had introduced Keeler to Profumo and who is now considered a scapegoat who suffered heavily.  Society osteopath Stephen Ward was charged with living off the immoral earnings of Christine Keeler and another woman, Mandi Rice Davies.  He had introduced Keeler to Profumo at the stately home Cliveden owned by pillar of the establishment Lord Astor, and Lord Astor to Rice Davies.  During Ward’s trial, which ended when Ward committed suicide, his defence counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied an affair with Rice Davies or indeed even having met her.  Rice Davies replied with a phrase that became famous and much quoted.  Faced with Astor’s denials Rice Davies said: "Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?" 

By 1979 this phrase had become part of common speech and entered the Oxford dictionary of quotations.  It is rarely heard or understood today.  It would be a useful phrase to adapt and use to decipher all of the competing "proof" of media effectiveness around at the moment. 

When presented with research that justifies the use of a medium or a channel, consider whether "They Would Say That Wouldn’t They?" (TWSTWT?).  Some Rice Davies inspired healthy scepticism will go a long way to unpick a media neutral growth strategy for brands.

When a particular medium "proves" that using their medium is better than another or when an advertising research study "proves" that advertising works, interrogate exactly what is being proved and what it means.  And always pose the "TWSTWT?" test to see a) how it stacks up versus other claims from other media and b) what third party standard of proof has been applied.

Most research that will reach a planner will be of a robust and decent standard.  Yet conflicting evidence does abound – about how effective video views of a couple of seconds are for example, or the importance of sound as well as vision.  There’s the much-used metric of "engagement" which seems to mean something different in every study.  Overall to pick the path of greatest effectiveness use TWSTWT? as a first response to the research that is presented. 

Sue Unerman is the chief transformation officer of MediaCom
@SueU

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