How Evidence-Based Marketing Could Change Ad Culture

Who needs online product testing? Candy bar company Mars, for one. The company just rolled a marketing campaign for Fling, a chocolate bar aimed squarely at women. But a lot has changed in the 20 years since Mars last introduced a new product, including the ability to conduct small, focused tests on highly specific online demographics, before committing to a single strategy that requires vast offline investment. All indications are that Mars skipped this step, preferring instead to kick it old school and test a single product strategy in the world’s 5th largest economy (California).

It’s early in the game, and this might all pay off for Mars in the end. However, early signs are not good. Media backlash has been remarkably swift and harsh. Even level-headed NPR trotted out gender-targeted marketing expert Lisa Johnson, who called the campaign “Creepy.” Sadly, this all could have been avoided with a solid evidence-based marketing strategy that limited the exposure to such a volatile campaign.

This comes as the New York Times featured a story about several NYC firms that are (gasp!) applying ad testing methodologies and data analysis to learn about consumer behavior and quickly adjust marketing strategies that aren’t working. To many in Web marketing that have been doing this for years, this is hardly news. Perhaps the real story is that mainstream ad agencies are beginning to adopt evidence-based methods, making it possible to test a number of varying creative pitches in small online environments rather than commit to a single strategy. As one executive quoted in the article puts it, the approach “forces marketers to stay on their toes and think of thousands of small great ideas instead of one great big one.”

The real question is whether mainstream marketers will embrace this change in large numbers, or whether most will continue to dismiss it. It’s amazing how many marketers at large multinational corporations have the ability to truly understand their marketing spend, but still find ways to dismiss a data-driven approach because it threatens the status-quo. In other cases, marketers would simply rather not know what’s broken. It’s really essential that ad cultures overcome this fear. Evidence-based approaches actually open the door for a variety of new ideas and inisghts by employing a “try anything, test everything” philosophy. In the end, consumers get what they want, and brands get the most effective strategy possible at a fraction of the risk of traditional campaigns.

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