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Be honest marketers, we’ve all made up metrics before

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By Marisa Thomas, CMO

August 21, 2023 | 6 min read

Marisa Thomas, chief marketing officer at Good-Loop, explains why marketers should stop cooking the books, moving the goalposts and lying about their metrics.

Pinocchio

Among the sea of experts on LinkedIn, one caught my eye. They went into detail about the new McDonald’s ad. The one with all the movie scenes in it. This expert worked with an eye-tracking company to measure its performance.

And the results spoke for themselves. It was the most mind-blowing, perfect, dopamine-inducing, my-type-on-paper, put-a-ring-on-it ad ever made. Big Macs literally started forming in audiences’ eyes as they watched. Their idle fingers turned into fries as they dipped them on their saucy keyboard to tweet, or x or whatever it is now, about how much they’re loving it. The report showed the most supersized results.

And. It is beyond me how we quickly lap this stuff up.

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How can we genuinely believe we can measure if a person is happy or confused or surprised through that same camera that makes me look like a smudge with hair most days – and with that ‘data’ decide that they love the ad more than a benchmark?

Is this really the future of effectiveness?

Of course not. There are three key reasons why.

1. Faces are hard to read. The perpetual confusion apparently displayed on my face is misread daily.

2. Tech is racist, so even if it did work on some faces, the data isn’t representative.

3. It doesn’t matter what your face says anyway. Or what you feel. Positive or negative feelings and faces aside, the ad really just needs to be remembered.

Farce aside, I have to tip my hat to this human expert on LinkedIn, their company, the VCs that backed it and the clients who bankroll it for making a dime because the measurement is a business built on fear – fear of not knowing if something worked that turns into fear of losing your budget that turns into fear of getting discovered as an imposter that turns into fear of losing your job, client or life.

Fear is lucrative. We know that we’re in advertising, after all.

Fear also makes measurement untrustworthy because of that whole gotta-keep-my-job thing.

Cards on the table. I’ve thrown my finger in the air a few times in the past to get a report done. Not fully fabricated, but I used my own knowledge, wishes, aspirations, wits – whatever you want to call it – to guesstimate a number. Total impressions of that 2014 social campaign? Let’s call it a rough optimistic rounded number in the millions. Average CTR? – we never defined what type of average we used anyway. Mean? Median? Mine? Often it’s more due to laziness that is then paired with fear. ‘I want to keep my job, but I can’t manually input any more data.’

For anybody who remembers having to count up individual post impressions before their agency would let them buy a measurement tool (so the measurement tool could make up the numbers instead), I’m certain you’ve made up metrics.

However, there are some hard nos in the ethics of fudging numbers.

1. Never make up things that actually matter: eg, money numbers. How much you spent, how much you made. Save that for the entrepreneurs and founders.

2. No time traveling. Doctoring reports is a whole different game.

3. Don’t tell. People will pretend they’ve never done it and you’ll get sacked for being honest [editor’s note: should you even admit this, Marisa?].

4. Don’t use tech. Meta’s advertising tools get unlimited get-out-of-jail-free cards, and there are tools to help you measure the discrepancy of other tools like Google Analytics. If you want something done accurately, trust a human – who also might make it up.

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It’s hard to see the point in measuring anything other than the original recipe: eyeballs and cash right now. Eyeball and cash over time. Everything else you should take with a massive pinch of salt.

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