Wednesday, March 07, 2007

5 times less is more

Hello all

Quick rant. I've just endured yet another example of someone selling the benefits of something by saying it will cause "'5 times less breakage". Now, I'm no statistician, but even I know that you cannot, by the laws of mathematics, come away with anything lower than what you started with if you multiply by a number greater than 1.

Of course, what they should be saying is "less than a fifth of the breakages" . So why don't they do that? A simple error by a spotty marketing copywriter, or did their focus groups tell them that we are a nation of fractionophobics???

Or is it that the marketeers are tapping into the innate stupidity that they assume lurks in all our brains?

To test the hypothesis that they have got underestimated the intelligence of Joe Public, I asked each person in the Institute what they understood by the term '5 times less'. Here is a summary of their replies.

Ravel: Boss, it is easy, yes? 5 times less is more than 5 times more when 5 is more than 1, yes? So we break everything 5 times, wait...I lost it.

Jenny (the cleaner): It's an obvious and wholly transparent marketing ploy Dr McCrumble. Did you not see that yourself? The advertising executives think we respond to something expressed as a multiple of something better than we respond to something expressed as a division. I think it's totally immoral of them to insult people's intelligence like that, but what can we do, eh? Perhaps you could use your influence to change things?'

Dolores: What on earth are you on about?

OK, so the sample size is low, but at least 2 from 4 members of the public (I include myself in this experiment) see the flaw. It's about time advertisers stopped trying to pull the wool over our TV eyes, yes?



Moose said...

Hmmm....tend to agree. Most people it seems, think that "50% more" means you get twice as much...sad but true.

They also seem to think that a ready meal that provides 120% of your recommended daily intake of saturated fat is an acceptable choice of sustenance.

And that a Buy One Get One Free is done as a promotion rather than an excuse for puerile marketing executives to use the phrase BOGOF as often as possible. I seem to remember you have some bitter personal experience of relatives and BOGOFs...

Nikki said...

Gotta love the adveritisers.

Kim Ayres said...

Ah, but, if you have a breakage, that equals 1 breakage, so less than one breakage is 0 breakages (why is zero, plural I wonder?), as you can't really have a half or quarter breakage - it's either a breakage or it isn't. So 5 times less breakages is 5 x 0, which is, of course, zero. Therefore it is less breakages.

Using this same logic they could have said it was a million times less breakages and it would still be true.

So to my mind, by using the number 5 they have shown a singular lack of ambition.

Conclusion: This ad was created by a shy 1st year student of marketing, or a cynical old bastard who doesn't care any more.

Gorilla Bananas said...

Number sophistry! It can disorder the brain of the deadliest predators. Zebra use it against lions.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Hey Doc McC! Have you seen this?

Go and check it out. I really think you should submit something. You've got loads of great material for it here.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Grrr. Marketers. Phthoo!

Dr Joseph McCrumble said...

Moose - it's all true.

Nikki - No, I don't

Kim - I think they resorted to a numerical illusion using numbers they derived from focus groups.

GB - You've hit the nail on the head, but I'm not sure that Zebras are bright enough to use sophistry.

Sam - I'll take a look