Advertising Technology North America

Confirmation bias is derailing great advertising


By Mike Margolin | Chief Digital Officer

May 10, 2017 | 5 min read

The notion of confirmation bias is getting airtime these days because of its overwhelming effect on political opinions. Because confirmation bias is inextricable to being human, we’re each genetically programmed to rationalize evidence — research, data, a comment made by an influential person, even a story you overheard — to align with our preconceived beliefs and understanding of the world. As a nation, we’re divided. Yet there’s one thing that most all of us share: confirmation bias.

Credit: Pixabay

But it’s not unique to politics — we can see it every day in the advertising business. For example, many advertising creative professionals judge quality of work based on Cannes or One Show award worthiness and see media professionals simply as bean-counting administrators. Meanwhile, many media professionals scoff at the creative-reel-obsessed creatives and view quality of work by a cost-related outcome, efficiency, impact or some combination thereof.

If you’re a career digital marketer, you’ve probably been waiting for TV to die for years already and still can’t understand why marketers keep spending huge portions of their budgets on TV programs despite dwindling ratings. And if you’re a TV ad buyer, perhaps every news story about bot fraud, ad-viewability issues or unimpressive ad-tech IPO is just further proof to you that digital ads will never grow up.

Creative agency leaders are biased. Media agency leaders are biased. Search marketing specialists are biased, as are DMP analysts and motion-graphics specialists. Even user-experience architects are biased.

We are all, by nature, partisan. Yet the advertising business has never been so complex, or has so deeply relied on both strategic and executional specialization. And great marketing demands — more than ever — a unified approach to strategy. Not a creative strategy and a media strategy and a digital strategy and a TV strategy. But a single strategy with creative, media, digital, TV and other components working in concert and leveraging advanced analytics that continue to prove that expanding media channels — when done correctly – will increase campaign effectiveness. Brilliant creative ideas are useless if they don’t connect with the right audiences, at the right moment.

All distinct perspectives are worth understanding, challenging and unifying. By bringing in people with diverse expertise, a collection of ideas and valuable perspective is guaranteed. There must be room for these ideas to be shared — and woven into the strategy or campaign.

How do we in the advertising business break through our own biases, see things more objectively and help people with different perspectives work better together?

-Create a common cause (or foe) that supersedes organizational zero-sum thinking. When individual teams are given discrete goals, they easily and often lead to misaligned objectives and views of the organizational whole. Jeff Bezos recently identified misalignment among some of Amazon’s top teams and recognized the pressing need to connect each team’s goals more clearly and directly to the company’s higher-order goals.

-Recognize and reward great collaborators: those who use the word “we” (not “us/them”). Every organization has people who act as the glue in big projects and important work sessions. These people consistently operate above board; they foster trust, and they perpetuate sharing of diverse perspectives. Make them famous for their inclusiveness of differing specializations and you’ll speak volumes to everyone else.

-Find the right occasions to ease the typical title and departmental constraints. In advertising, creativity can be a value multiplier. And increasingly, creativity comes in many forms, as evidenced recently by Spotify, Krylon and Farmers Insurance — and should not be restricted to simply the creative agency/department or potentially stifled by management approval processes. In my experience, many of the most innovative ideas come during new-business pitches. That’s not because the people in the room are more creative, but because that’s the environment that has the most liberal approach to hearing ideas.

I’m inherently biased, just like you. I’d love to learn — and many other readers of this piece would also appreciate — your company’s approach to breaking down biases and bringing differing viewpoints together.

Please comment, Tweet, or otherwise share what works for your organization. And perhaps, together, we can be part of solving at least one way our nation is divided.

Mike Margolin is chief digital officer at RPA. He tweets @mmargolin

Advertising Technology North America

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