PD Scullin en digital advertising, Marketing, Advertising Writing Fool • PD Scullin Literary Factory 10/1/2018 · 2 min de lectura · +400

Is Your Marketing Suffering From The McNamara Fallacy?

Is Your Marketing Suffering From The McNamara Fallacy?

I’m finally catching up with something that’s occupied about 30% of my DVR space for months — THE VIETNAM WAR, a 17.25-hour film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

It’s tragic to watch as the leaders of our country make so many bad decisions. I watch sorrowfully because I know their pigheaded mistakes were paid with the lives of 58,220 brave Americans.

And those who came home from fighting that awful war did not receive a hero’s welcome. They still haven’t, and many are afflicted with PTSD as souvenirs.

A major factor in the long-running Vietnam catastrophe was the bad decision making and advice given by Robert McNamara, the United States Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968. At the root of his bogus thinking was numbers.

McNamara was driven by enemy body counts. In his mind, the war was a game of attrition — whichever side had the fewer number of dead bodies would win.

He came from the business world (The Ford Motor Company) and was a master of systems analysis, so he treated war as if planning operational efficiency.

But car parts can’t think, and they don’t have emotions.

McNamara was a slave to metrics and made his decisions solely on quantitative observations, ignoring other factors like the attitudes of the native people, and their unconventional approach to engaging battles.

He held fast to his numbers, and McNamara had Lyndon Johnson believing in his bulletproof thinking.

The Secretary of Defense’s belief in only what can be measured has been named The McNamara Fallacy.

Not to minimize the tragic sorrow of war, but today I see many marketers applying McNamara thinking to their initiatives and campaigns. They let metrics and analytics rule all their decision making.

If it cannot be measured, it doesn’t matter.

These marketers believe in testing, testing, testing–– and the result is the soulless, pedantic crap that floods all media and fuels our desire to avoid and despise advertising.

Are there big ideas out there, ones designed to win hearts and minds?

Precious few.

Instead, we are exposed to an assault of tactics designed to trigger response. Marketers believe if they string together enough battle victories, they’ll win the war.

Maybe, but at what cost?

If your marketing is strictly transactional, I doubt you’ll build much of a brand. You’ll occupy your turf until someone wages a better battle.

Price wars are the quintessential example of this.

Great brands are built with an empathetic understanding of human wants and needs, and an engaging, compelling presentation of why the brand exists and what it can do –– as filtered through the prism of humanity.

These ideas and brands become movements. They capture imaginations, and if the products perform, they instill loyalty and pride in ownership and use.

Weak brands exist in tactical warfare and decisions made solely by the numbers.The spreadsheets are analyzed, and new tactics loaded and deployed.

As Daniel Yankelovich wrote in “Corporate Priorities: A continuing study of the new demands of business” in 1972:

“The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.”

What type of marketing campaigns are you engaging?

Are you bringing your humanity to your job, or are you making decisions by the numbers?

Are you taking any chances, following your instincts, and trusting your gut?

Are you being ruled by rational thought only? Remember, most people buy emotionally and rationalize their purchase later.

When you review creative ideas, do you palms ever sweat? Don’t look for palm antiperspirant — sweating palms are good!

If an idea doesn’t make you nervous, chances are it does not have the potential for greatness.

Be human. Be vulnerable. Be brave.

And if you haven’t seen it, watch THE VIETNAM WAR.


Patrick Scullin is an empathetic adman and founder of ASO Advertising.

He has two blogs: Empathetic Adman (marketing pontification) and The Lint Screen (satire, smartassery humor, pop culture ramblings, and advice for people getting hip replacements).

PD Scullin 15/1/2018 · #4

#1 Great point, Don Kerr. Thanks for reading and adding your perspective.

PD Scullin 15/1/2018 · #3

#2 You are so right, Brian McKenzie. We apparently never learn, or, the military industrial complex never wants to learn–– there's too much money to be made in war. So very sad. Thanks for reading and contributing. Best wishes!

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Brian McKenzie 11/1/2018 · #2

No point in watching the Vietnam War, we are repeating it across the globe as we speak. Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Brazil, Venezuela, Ukraine and Korea are all on the desk from the dark & grey machine that started Vietnam.
We have learned nothing, the game has only moved locations.

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Don 🐝 Kerr 11/1/2018 · #1

@Patrick Scullin "If your marketing is strictly transactional, I doubt you will build much of a brand." Company stories are as important, if not more, than the products produced as it is the stories which create an emotional connection with the customer.

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