03 Jul

Do numbers work?

Just a quickie [insert lewd comment here], but do numbers in ads or sales pitches work?

I say this as I heard someone stand up and tout the benefits of their forthcoming webinar, that was going to be made available to one billion people, for free.
This was followed with ‘and you don’t want to be the billionth and one person’.
Notwithstanding that ‘the billionth and one person’ is a really clunky phrase to fit into a quick presentation
I always have huge reservations over the word ‘free’: my first thought is ‘why is it free? What’s in it for the person offering it? What will I be asked to buy into later?’

This isn’t my main issue, though. My main issue is with ‘one billion people’. It’s such a vast, incomprehensible number – certainly in the context of offering that many webinars – that it doesn’t seem plausible, and my brain just inserts a blank there… then hears all of the other words.

I find this, in general, with advertising that drops figures into the mix (bar ads for financial services, obviously).
If a broadband company offers ‘up to a 77% increase in connection speed over other providers’ I just read the words ‘increase in connection speed’. The ‘77%’ is a blank as there are too many variables in it: compared to which providers? All of them? At what times of day? In which counties/cities/locales?
Moreover, this statistic appears in an advert which we know is trying to sell us into a service. What’s the likelihood of the figure coming from the company’s own, in-house survey – skewed for advertising purposes – Vs a completely independent survey from an outside company? (or maybe an independent survey with leading questions…)

The same goes for ads like Colgate’s: ‘9 out of 10 dentists who tried it, would recommend it’.
How many dentists were surveyed? Were they all just from one area? Were they all from the same dental practice?? Did they just survey dentists until the got they right
Again, it’s a statistic created with the specific aim of selling you into a product – it can be fiddled any which way to get it right. This is why I simply don’t hear the ‘9 out of 10′ bit: it’s a blank to me. Ironically, I actually use Colgate, but it has b*gger all to do with dentists’ recommendations.

All of this demonstrates a fairly obvious point, coming from me: I like writing strong, emotive copy that moves people to action. I’m not a fan of plonking (clearly engineered) stats into a campaign in the hope that people are stupid enough to believe them.

Not sure what everyone else’s thoughts are, on this – I’d be interested to know.


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