Marketing myths – the 5 logical fallacies that are neutralising your ad’s effectiveness

A logical fallacy is something most of us encounter each day. It’s a flaw in reasoning, an epic fail of logic that doesn’t stand up to real scrutiny. Like tricks or illusions of thought, fallacies often become accepted, because nobody bothers to challenge them or investigate further.

And advertising is full of them.

Despite our big words, big data, and in some cases, big budgets, this industry is permeated by a set of norms that don’t make any sense. These are things we’re taught in college, that are reinforced by peers and managers. They’re incorrect heuristics that we think make our lives easier, yet have a negative impact on every campaign.

Some of the best research in how our industry really works has come from contrarian thinking. Kahneman has outlined the fallacy of ‘the rational man’, Byron Sharp has told us the truth behind ‘How Brands Grow’ and Ad Contrarian has taken us beyond the bullshit jargon of adland and towards real enlightenment.

And yet many of us still fall into the same traps, myself included.

It’s easy to default to and defend accepted ways of thinking, much harder to ‘think differently’.
Old habits die hard.

Here are six of the most commonly held marketing beliefs in marketing today, and why each of them are at best illogical, and at worst downright dangerous.

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Byron Sharp’s excellent ‘How Brands Grow’ provides a different perspective.

Fallacy 1: ‘Social is just a low cost ‘soft’ branding tool and can’t be used to drive hard metrics’

When social first started making its way into the minds of advertisers, it was seen as a holy grail. A low cost way to communicate directly with ‘fans’ and an opportunity to drive emotional proximity. But the reality these days is very different. First of all, social isn’t low cost. The monthly budget required to create a coherent, evolving strategy and great visual content, and to moderate pages on an ongoing basis is substantial, whether it’s through an agency or internal.

But more importantly, social these days is a cluttered space that’s difficult to gain cut through in. When Coca Cola execs are saying that it’s easier to ‘buy more reach with $500 than you can earn from a 90-million-fan Facebook page’, it should finally be obvious to brands that social isn’t low cost. Media support is critical.

But on the flipside, the theory that social can’t be used as a conversion tool or sales driver is also untrue. Facebook in particular is a missed opportunity – it’s incredibly nuanced targeting options make it the biggest direct marketing tool in the world. Social ‘action’ buttons are coming in across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, allowing brands to drive clicks to a conversion page, while the option to overlay owned data (CRM, newsletter, app and website usage) with social data allows for highly targeted creative. Sure, for some brands (FMCG for example), driving sales is more difficult. But for e-commerce (ASOS is an excellent case study), social lead ads can prove a positive stepping stone on the consumer journey.

Fallacy 2: Digital requires a completely different way of thinking to ‘traditional’ advertising

The rise of digital has certainly proven to be a game changer. Separate agencies, consultancies, departments and industries have grown around the sector, all with presumptions that digital is the only answer. But that’s a dangerously biased way of thinking. Firstly, ‘digital marketing’ itself is a legacy term. It shouldn’t be seen as a standalone. All marketing is digital, and if digital isn’t baked into your ways of working and thinking as a default, then good luck, because the industry has moved past that. But also, there is less difference between the core tenets of traditional marketing and digital than many would care to admit. The smarter operators retain a lot of respect for the thinking that’s come before, and maintian perspective. They stay skeptical, question the experts and understand that the science part of marketing is still the same – find the most probably buyer and deliver the most relevant message to the. Indeed, digital marketing’s deepest, darkest secret is that it hasn’t delivered on the widespread success that was mooted, at least not by disrupting traditional rules. Ironically, digital it’s at its most effective when it actually plays by traditional rules!

The real advantage of digital is not based on specific targeting, rather the fact that it helps us broadly reach new customers in a more cost effective way. The real value of platforms like FB, Instagram and Snapchat is the ability to get textured, interesting brand messaging in front of a broad target audience (just like TV!). Stick to the principles that have always applied to great marketing you won’t go too far wrong.

Fallacy 3: ‘Wastage is a bad thing and loyalty is the holy grail’

Common perception is that the more targeted and segmented your marketing efforts are, the higher return on investment they’ll drive for your brand. On the face of it, this makes sense. But of course that’s the danger with a logical fallacy – it looks good but doesn’t stand up to further inspection. In reality, according to famous research by Binet and Field, wastage can be a good thing. The benefits of wide brand reach, particularly if you’re using novel, high creative campaigns, outweighs tight targeting. Targeting non-existing customers is a much more effective way to attract new users – campaigns with this objective are 3x more effective than trying to keep people loyal. Of course, relevance is important, and digital/social tools are great for that. But that needs to be teamed with wider ranging activity (which is why TV is still incredibly important). Merely targeting existing customers alone is a fool’s errand. Byon Sharp’s influential ‘How Brands Grow’ book says something similar – Ensure the brand is easy to buy for everyone, and continuously reach all buyers in a category, rather than just those you think are ‘loyal’. Wastage is underrated – think of it as a conversation with tomorrow’s customers!

Talk to all of your prospects most of the time, and target those most interested with something relevant from time to time. Simple!

Fallacy 4: Music is an afterthought

Write the strategy, write and design the ad and stick in some stock music afterwards. Simple right?

For some reason in the past decade, many video and TV campaigns seem to have forgotten the importance of using notable, disruptive music. The golden era of TV ads in the 80s relied upon noteworthy music that everyone from Mum to little Johnny could sing along to. But no longer.


Music costs have soared as bands’ usual revenue streams diminish and they start to realise their songs commercial worth. But similarly, clients tend to place visual mandatories on a brief, saving music mandatories for only the largest campaigns. This is a mistake. Anectodally, the most famous, shareable video and TV spots use music as away to touch on emotion, create mental structures and meaning and offer cues. Music can heighten the emotional impact of visuals (think of Jaws or Mr Soft), can generate free media exposure (Three Pony), and according to Binet and Field data, TV ads that feature music prominently are on average 20-30% more effective than ads that don’t. If that’s not a reason to invest in music then what is. Music offers a patently obvious example of how non verbal, stylistic elements of an ad can influence consumer attitudes, so make it a mandatory rather than an afterthought.

Fallacy 5: Targeting ‘millennials’ is the easiest way to long term profit

For at least the past decade, marketers have been scrutinising “millennial” customers and creating campaigns and products to suit their tastes. A whole industry has cropped up around marketing to and identifying the changing tastes of ‘millennials’. We think we can target them with the exact same messages on the same channels and they’ll all respond in a similar way if the offer is right. Yet research has shown that not even those who are supposed to be in that category identify with that tag!

Using the term ‘millennial’ to describe the most diverse, globalised, technologically advanced and culturally fast moving generation there has ever been is just stupid. Millennials span 20 years, but innovation is moving at a speed never seen before, and, as a result, technological trends are shifting greatly between groups of people only a few years apart in age. And yet with advertising briefs, when we’re filling the ‘Target Market’ section, the default is often to use the dreaded millennial word.

The marketing community, for some reason, seems to skew towards favouring youth and is biased to targeting young people, when agenging populations in the western world, and different lifestyles mean those over 50 are more often more likely to buy your product than those under 25. It’s a huge error in judgement, but also an opportunity for those who realise it quickly.

A better approach is to design for archetypes that are representative of certain attitudinal and behavioural traits, and then combine these with social, market and emerging technology trends—all things that transcend age or generation. Defining an ideal customer for a potential product or service using broader human themes allows you to create solutions that resonate with a larger group of people. Applying a generational lens will backfire.

Of course, there are more commonly held wrong views about marketing. Indeed it’s perhaps the sector that suffers most from rigid thinking and a lack of interrogation. But by remaining contrarian (which luckily is no problem for me!), we can improve our ROI by sticking to a few simple, generally applied rules.