This study out of the University of Oregon, about information recall rates between online and print readers, got a lot of attention over the past week. And rightly so. We need to know more about how and why people interact with advertising. (I mean, I want to know how all communications work, but since an ad agency supports my mortgage and food habits, I feel a particular dedication to knowing more about ads.)
I encourage you to read the PDF. (Ahem, print it out if you must, like me.) One of the nuggets is that online readers are more like to read headlines alone (and, after I changed my mind, you know how I feel about that) while paper readers are more likely to read body copy and recall it. While I'm sure that's not the final answer and I'd love to see a bigger survey sample, this work is trying to do something important – get at the reality of how we communicate.
We need to know what works under what circumstances. That knowledge could vastly improve media decisions, let alone creative decisions. And we already bring a lot of discipline to direct media, burrowing into all kinds of metrics and spitting out all kinds of analysis. Our media team's efforts and thinking on the results of, say, this campaign were considerable and impressive.
So what to make of the collision of science (or at least observation) and creative? Most creatives (and a still surprising number of clients) assume that the idea trumps all. Package your concept up into whatever media you've bought and, bam, there's your campaign. Which is heartwarming and hopeful, and may have once been true, but it's becoming less true and less useful. People in our business can hear about the Oregon study, or similar work, and still not absorb it or understand it, thanks to the fact that we humans are surprisingly bad listeners. (That's thanks to the invention of writing, but that's a whole other story.)
Direct marketing, for all its limitations, begins with the idea that marketing is measurable. And we have a toolkit of attitudes and techniques with which we approach our work. But it's all based on knowledge derived from response – what's worked? – and not on knowledge of the rest of the interaction. Right now we get back a yes/no, but not why or how. And that would be really valuable knowledge.
Think of it as the complete takeover of the world by direct marketing if you must, but applying some sort of scientific or at least measurable discipline to consumer interaction with marketing is essential.
We need to get better.