July 29, 2007

Brand Polls Criticized At Last

Advertising Age, the publication of record for advertising executives, published a piece by Matthew Creamer July 23 that questions the worth of brand opinion polls. It's about time.

Creamer illustrates the problem with these polls by taking a closer look at a company that has topped Harris Interactive's "best brands" poll since 2000: Sony Corp. He writes: "In recent years ... [the company] has stood helpless as Apple eats its lunch in the portable-music-player category it created; as it was forced to recall 10 million defective laptop batteries; and as its next-generation video-game console [the PS3] flopped like a sumo wrestler." Yet when people are asked which brands they consider best, Sony continues to top the list because of its near-universal brand awareness.

Creamer has hit upon a deeper truth, something direct-response marketers have known for more than a century: Awareness does not equal sales. In fact, as the Sony example shows, there is often no correlation between the two.

Of course, Creamer's answer to this flawed opinion poll is a better opinion poll that measures purchase intent or brand loyalty. But that's no solution, either. Ask a focus group if they would pay $20 for your new product, and a majority will likely say yes. Ask them to open their wallets on the way out and plunk down $20 for one of your product samples, and watch that majority mysteriously evaporate. Consumers are famous for saying one thing -- and then buying another.

Perhaps someday the larger advertising world will realize what DR marketers already know: It makes little sense to measure opinions when it's really sales you're after.

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