I have developed a curious obsession.
Lately, I’ve been taking photographs of adverts for health and beauty products.
Most of them are from television. It’s not the products that interest me. It’s those captions at the bottom used to back up some voiceover assertion. Like this:
(Though it has Helen Mirren, one of my favourite actors, so what’s not to like?)
Some large – or even not so large percentage – is quoted of the number of women (no men’s products yet spotted) who agreed with some statement.
Some more of my photos are at the bottom of this post. Here’s a table of the figures from them:
|Total women||%age||Total times %age||Rounded||Rounded divided by Total||In words|
|241||74%||178.34||178||73.9%||178 out of 241 women agreed|
|207||70%||144.90||145||70.0%||145 out of 207 women agreed|
|194||72%||139.68||140||72.2%||140 out of 194 women agreed|
|193||73%||140.89||141||73.1%||141 out of 193 women agreed|
|182||78%||141.96||142||78.0%||142 out of 182 women agreed|
|114||88%||100.32||100||87.7%||100 out of 114 women agreed|
|97||72%||69.84||70||72.2%||70 out of 97 women agreed|
|53||70%||37.10||37||69.8%||37 out of 53 women agreed|
|30||96%||28.80||29||96.7%||29 out of 30 women agreed|
I’ve set out to two decimal places what the percentage means of the total number surveyed. I’ve also done the calculation using the rounded number of women. It looks like most advertisers round down on their percentages.
So, are these impressive figures? Who knows? The problem is that without knowing how the survey was set up, there are just too many ways in which figures like this might actually be mediocre.
These don’t seem to be like the surveys that you might be used to in political opinion polling – usually of around 1,000 voters with a lot of care taken to get a representative sample.
Nor do they seem to be the results you might associate with drug development with their extensive randomised controlled trials.
Psychological research tells us a lot about cognitive biases that can undermine any survey. Most people like to agree to questions put to them, for a start.
Even when we agree, we may disagree! It all depends on how the question is asked. I tweeted this screengrab from Twitter:
Different wording, different results. Different conclusions? Now I remember my quantum mechanics from my uni days and how something can be in two states at the same time – think Schrödinger’s Cat. But this result ain’t quantum. It’s just how phrasing affects people’s considerations.
So, back to the TV adverts. These companies make big profits. To paraphrase one, aren’t you worth it for them to spend a little more on their numbers?