One of the most common tricks in the marketing handbook is the use of statistics. 4 out of 5 dentists recommend Trident. 1 in 5 New Yorkers rely on the food bank to eat. 64% of houseguests notice odors in your home.
When used appropriately in communications, statistics can give consumers a piece of truth to grab onto, a compelling reason to buy Trident gum, donate to the Food Bank for New York City, or paint their homes with new odor-eliminating Dutch Boy paint. For PSAs, statistics can provide relevance and proximity to an issue, convey its urgency and shock viewers into paying attention.
Take our Hunger Prevention campaign, for instance. Back in the summer of 2008, during our initial creative development, we found that many people in the U.S. simply did not think of hunger as a problem that existed here in America. They saw it as a developing world issue; one that affected poor people in faraway places. We needed messaging that could drive home the size and scope of the domestic hunger issue, and get people to take action.
Our solution? An alarming, stops-you-in-your-tracks, statistic. 1 in 8 Americans struggles with hunger.
We anchored every piece of our communications with the 1 in 8 fact—in TV, radio, print, outdoor, web banners, website, talking points and press releases. Heck, we even named the campaign “1 in 8.” It was all working swimmingly until, well … the stat changed.
The recession was upon us, and within a few months of our launch, USDA reported that 49 million people are now food insecure in this country, a massive climb of 36% in one year. The new statistic brought us closer to 1 in 6 Americans struggles with hunger than 1 in 8 from just a year ago. (This goes to show how much more work we have to do on this issue, but that’s another post for another day).
Our 1 in 8 campaign suddenly felt … inaccurate. But the complex logistics of pulling all of the spots off-air, re-editing, and re-distributing out to the media would mean thousands of dollars worth of unexpected expense. So, along with our sponsors at Feeding America, we made the decision to leave the campaign as is.
Ultimately, the actual math wasn’t as important as the net takeaway for the audience. Whether the stat is 1 in 8 or 1 in 6 (or even 1 in 4), what we’re trying to get across with our campaign is that hunger is a very large and urgent problem in the U.S., and one that needs action now.
Somebody* once said, “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” Truth is, every brand, organization and issue comes with its own behemoth set of data and numbers. It is our job as marketers to mine for the ones that are most compelling, and distill them into meaningful content for the public. The power of a statistic comes from the way we humanize it. Otherwise, they are just a string of random digits.
*This quote has often been misattributed to Joseph Stalin, but the actual author is unknown.