Posts Tagged: Thinkbox

Golden Age Syndrome

Has there really ever been a ‘Golden Age’ of advertising? Or, rather, is talking about one a kind of syndrome that strikes media types in their middle years and causes them to talk nostalgically or sentimentally about a mythical, better past – often using it as a benchmark to rubbish what is around now?

In his new autobiography, ‘The Fry Chronicles’, Stephen Fry talks about the first TV commercial he ever recorded. It was this one for Worthington in the early 1980s. When retelling the story he has what might be described as a bout of ‘Golden Age Syndrome’:

‘The golden age of British advertising was just coming to an end. The most prominent stars to have risen over the past decade had been Ridley and Tony Scott, Hugh Hudson, David Puttnam and Alan Parker, who now all devoted their time to feature films. Paul Weiland, a generation behind, had started his career as a tea boy at the production office where most of those big names had worked and was to become the leading commercials director of the eighties and nineties. Indeed he still reigns supreme.’

I’ll leave it to you to debate who reigns supreme or not as the case may be, but Fry is far from alone in thinking there is a lost golden age. Google “golden age” and “advertising” and it returns 9 million examples. The brilliant Mad Men has perpetuated the myth and may even be symptomatic of the syndrome.

My point is that I’m not convinced there has ever been a ‘golden age’ of advertising – unless we are still in it. Nothing has ended; I think it is more likely to be a question of perspective and that there is probably at least as much really good advertising around now as there was in the so-called ‘golden age’ of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Standards have not slipped; the problem is distance.

When those with longer memories peer into their minds’ rear-view mirrors, all they can see are the giant, outstanding ads on the distant horizon; the less good ones are not as memorable and so are less visible. So distance tricks them into thinking that things were generally better then.

Added to this is the fact that they can easily think of ads they might not highly rate that are on TV now or were in more recent memory – these are memorable because they are closer; in time, though, they will be forgotten. The great stuff stays in view; the less good slips from view.

There is also an argument that the creative bar has risen since the 70s and we have got used to a certain standard of creativity in our advertising. Something judged mediocre now may have wowed audiences back then. This is certainly true of TV programmes and, I would argue, advertising too.

And, if ads are so much worse now when we have so many technologies to avoid them, why are we watching more than ever (45 a day each) and going online to watch or share some again and again?

The ‘golden age’ claim belongs in the same realm as complaining that the weather used to be better, or that food doesn’t taste like it used to, or that music these days is rubbish. Fast forward twenty years when today’s crop of fresh faced graduates will be running the industry and I predict that there will be a similar wave of nostalgia for the golden age of advertising of the noughties; when Meerkats and Nikes delighted us, when flashmobs spontaneously danced in perfect unison, and when “Always a woman to me” meant a lump in the throat and a tear in the eye.

That’s what I think; what do you think? Advertising is nothing if not subjective.

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How creatives can fight the media corner

‘Excellence is an art won by training’ said Aristotle. He probably wasn’t thinking about the training courses that we run here at Thinkbox, but I like to think he would have approved anyway. Excellence is what we should all be after and training – either on the job or more formal courses – is vital to it.

One of my responsibilities is running Thinkbox’s (free) training courses and, with a moment to spare, I recently had a look at the attendance to see what, if anything, it told me.

We currently run two different training courses; the first is designed for new starters to the advertising and marketing sectors, whatever their role or company, and gives an introduction to the world of television, covering everything from how TV is traded to the different roles it plays and how to get the best out of a TV campaign. The second looks at TV technology and provides information and insight into developments in TV technology and how advertisers can get the best out of them.

Since we started the courses two years ago, we have had hundreds of people pass through our doors. They have come from the following parts of the industry:

Media agencies: 55% (the biggest sector, unsurprisingly)
TV companies: 20%
Advertisers: 8%
Creative agencies: 6%
Others (includes auditors, research companies, academics etc.): 11%

We’re delighted to welcome everyone who signs up, but we were a bit surprised by the stats nonetheless. We understand why advertisers represent a smaller proportion; they are mostly based outside London, advertising is only part of what they worry about and they can always get their media agencies to provide the necessary information.

However, we are a bit surprised by how few creative agency people have attended. It is puzzling and frustrating; why don’t they come? You could argue that they would gain the most out of it, as they don’t have easy access to media insights. The courses consistently get good feedback from delegates and it is free training after all in an era when free anything is pretty rare. Perhaps they don’t know about the workshops (which would be our fault) or realise it’s for them too (also our fault). Perhaps they don’t think they need to understand this stuff. I appreciate that planning and buying TV is not something they do in their daily jobs, but it’s still very important to understand it and be able to take part in strategic decisions about media with their clients and their media agencies from a position of knowledge.

Anyway, rather than admit defeat, we are creating a training module specifically designed for creative agency people – planners, account managers and even creatives themselves. It will be a half day workshop in which we will give delegates some basic TV trends, predict TV’s future and show what it adds to the marketing mix, and how it drives other media behaviour such as search and social media.

We will also share research which proves investing in great TV creativity will deliver better business results. That’s a very helpful piece of ammunition for any creative agency. We’ll also look at some of the new creative opportunities and challenges for brands in TV – content, product placement, on-demand TV – and generally give practical advice on getting the best out of today’s TV.

From our point of view, if it does nothing else, we should get fewer of those “We only had 400 TV ratings* but we got 700,000 views on YouTube” quotes that we tend to hear from creatives these days.

The new workshops will be launched early next year and we hope to run them on a regular basis. If you work for a creative agency and fancy fresh insight into TV advertising, do please email me: If there is strong demand from any individual company we can even run it in-house exclusively for you.

* 400 all individual TV ratings equates to 260 million ‘views’. 400 ratings for any other audience will probably deliver even more than that.

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Brave and effective

A wonderful night at the IPA Effectiveness Awards. Congratulations to all the winners; we never get bored of pointing out how important these awards are. Proving the impact of advertising in hard business terms is the Grail; nothing is more deserving of awards, celebrations and hangovers.

For obvious partisan reasons we’re pleased here at Thinkbox about telly’s performance last night. 36 of the 38 winning campaigns had TV advertising at their heart and special congratulations must go to every one of the 122 magnificent seconds that made up the TV ad for the Grand Prix winner, Hovis.

Hovis’s campaign – which scooped the best TV ad at the BTA Awards – increased its sales by 14% year on year and cranked its profits up by £90 million. Its success neatly underlines the findings from the research we did with the IPA earlier this year that finally proved the direct link between advertising creativity and advertising effectiveness. The research showed that the most creatively awarded campaigns – added to great strategic and communications planning – deliver 11 times more efficiency. Hovis’s TV ad is two minutes of living proof of how investing in creativity is not only brave but effective.

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The good news: TV won’t ever ‘overtake’ the internet.

Cast your mind back. You may remember a year ago when our cheeky cousins at the IAB announced that internet advertising revenue had finally ‘overtaken’ TV advertising revenue in the first half of 2009. This prompted some ugly triumphalism from internet fundamentalists and telly was given a right old kicking in the press. A year on our bruises have healed, and we’re all friends again.

But guess what; various press stories appeared last week using the 2010 first half figures from the Advertising Association to state that apparently TV had ‘overtaken’ the internet again. In the first half of the year TV had 25.5% share of advertising spending, and ‘the internet’ had 24.3%. Whoopee, you might expect us to say; boo-sucks to the internet, reap what ye sow, don’t throw stones in glass houses, hoisted by your own petard and similar sanctimonious retributions.

Except we are saving our celebrations for something that actually counts. At the risk of repeating myself, on the anniversary of TV’s trashing and while ‘online advertising’ spend is fresh in our minds, I would like to revisit why the ‘who is the bigger medium?’ question is the chocolate teapot of media debates.

It is not comparing like with like

TV is a medium, the internet is not; it is a fantastic technology that enables a variety of activities, from banking to shopping to email to TV to radio to newspapers and all things in between. It would be like naming everything that uses print technology – from posters, door drops and catalogues to directories, magazines, DM and newspapers, not to mention phenomena like books, leaflets, or letters – a single medium.

‘Online advertising’ doesn’t exist
There is no single thing called ‘online advertising’; it is a confusing catch-all term for the wide variety of very different types of advertising, including online search, display, social media and classified advertising. These are mature enough now to be looked at individually, as people do with the different forms of print, not lumped together. Aggregating revenues from such disparate disciplines in order to create a PR-able big number is meaningless.

TV *hearts* the internet
I never tire of saying this. TV advertising and most forms of internet advertising are genuinely not in competition. Search – by some margin the biggest medium within the internet sector – and email marketing do completely different things for advertisers and are wholly complementary to TV. Google calls it a ‘special relationship’ and this was underlined by our joint research with the IAB. Online display formats of course can be substitutes for TV, but the fastest growing one is … online TV.

TV is available on the internet
The increasing convergence between TV (the content) and the internet (the technology) makes comparing the two fundamentally flawed. TV will be increasingly watched via the internet, broadband connected TV sets are launching, and the most attractive and effective part of online display to advertisers is the advertising spaces around on-demand TV.

If you still care about what the biggest advertising sector is, it’s print

If the same methodology of aggregating revenues from different types of advertising that use one particular technology was used generally, then ‘print’ would remain the biggest advertising sector. TV advertising and ‘online advertising’ never have been, and neither is now. TV however is the biggest display medium by a wide and increasing margin.

Online never ‘overtook’ TV anyway
Ironically, despite what the IAB announced a year ago, ‘online advertising’ never finally ‘overtook’ TV in 2009. If you want all the numbers here goes…

Ofcom’s figures, the most reliable source, list net TV revenue in 2009 at £3.136bn. Expressed as a number gross of 15% agency commission that comes to £3.689bn. The Advertising Association figures are generally listed gross of 15% agency commission for all media.They have 2009 TV spot revenue only at £3.525bn gross, plus listed separately is £160m of TV sponsorship. Together that comes to £3.685bn gross, almost exactly Ofcom’s number. The AA uses the IAB’s self-published figure for ‘online advertising’ of £3.541bn gross in 2009.

There you have it: TV (excluding online TV) took £3.685bn in gross advertising revenue in 2009 and the whole online sector £3.541bn gross.

It gets confusing because the AA separates TV sponsorship from spot and lots of people get mixed up between net and gross (including some very large media agencies). So TV wasn’t overtaken it seems, so therefore can’t have regained some spurious position it never lost in the first place.

But we genuinely don’t care
Who does? We haven’t made a big deal out of this ourselves because, however tempting it might be, we are not in the business of comparing the two (Ok, apart from right now, but that’s only to show how fatuous it is). TV’s share of total and display advertising rose last year (as it also did in 2008), which might have justified a bit of showing off. But when TV revenues were down nearly 10% it seemed a bit sick to get excited. A year will probably come again when the online sector grows faster than TV but we’ll still be happy as long as it’s not at TV’s expense.

Real reasons to celebrate

2010 is a different issue. Display advertising has come back strongly this year. All media that are brand building are doing better, from cinema to outdoor. TV revenue seems to be growing by more than 12% and faster than any other medium this year. All of 2009’s revenue decline will be regained . Now those are facts we are happy to say ‘Whoopee’ to.

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Online research: the crack cocaine of media evaluation

The low cost, fast turnaround and ease of doing online research has turned it into the crack cocaine of media evaluation; we know it’s bad for us but it is also addictive and gives us an instant high.

So a big thumbs up and round of applause should go to the IAB in the USA. They have just released an independent review of the methods used to measure online advertising’s effectiveness via the internet.

This was a very brave move indeed by the IAB, given that these ‘surveys’ consistently claim that online advertising spend is significantly more effective than spend on established media. The IAB across the Atlantic took aim at many of its members’ own feet.

I doubt there was the sound of champagne corks hitting the ceiling when the results came in. Conducted by one of the leading research specialists in the USA, the review concluded that much of online effectiveness research is seriously undermined by extremely low response rates, problems of survey design and a lack of evidence that it is weighting the data to account for inherent biases in the system.

Most of these surveys work on an ‘intercept’ approach, which means that respondents are invited to take part in a survey via web pages which are serving the online ads of the brands being evaluated. It is a bit like asking people sitting in Burger King and eating Whoppers if they prefer Burger King and Whoppers to McDonalds and Big Macs.

Talking of whoppers, I am regularly shocked by how many people in our industry take these studies’ findings seriously. I was at the MRG Conference in London when one such online study was presented. It demonstrated that expenditure on a series of banner ads had been around twice as effective as spend on TV. In a moment of frustration, I asked the media agency presenting the research the following question:

“If, twenty years ago, I had presented research selling the effectiveness of newspaper advertising by saying we had recruited a sample of readers of a newspaper, they had responded to an invitation to take part in a survey that was on the same page as the ad being evaluated, and they had completed the survey in their newspaper before sending it off by post, and the research then concluded that newspaper advertising was by far the most effective for that brand, would I have been taken seriously?”

I never got a satisfactory answer.

Research into advertising effectiveness needs to be scrupulously fair. It needs to be unbiased and comprehensive. We cannot restrict our questions to online panels, as they only represent the 70-odd per cent of the population that are regularly online and also skew towards heavier online users. We cannot recruit them via the pages on which the advertising to be evaluated sits, as that introduces yet another level of bias. And we shouldn’t even be asking them to complete the survey online, as the context of the questions will add another bias towards online.

In short, and in line with the results of the IAB’s investigation, there are far too many biases to make the research even remotely viable. It is flawed before it starts – and that is before we factor in additional failings such as the short-term nature of the research (some media channels, most notably television, carry on delivering value many months after the campaign ends), or the fact that a single exposure to the online creative is given as much of a weighting as multiple exposures to other media channels.

This is an issue that Ipsos has already raised in the UK. Studies that have previously always demanded intellectual rigour and methodological discipline have been dumbed-down, seduced by the instant ‘hit’ of data showing the results that were wanted in the first place. In the area of advertising effectiveness, which should surely be the most rigorous and scientific of all advertising research activities, we have developed an approach that offers plenty of data but very little insight, and that is fundamentally wrong.

But it is crack cocaine, so it is hard to wean people off it. So, well done the State-side IAB for tackling this issue – as it puts much of the data of its supporters under the spotlight – and for offering rehab. Media research relies on mutual trust between the commissioner of that research and its audience, and it is only by taking a leadership role, as the IAB has done in the States, that we can ensure the many positive advantages of online research are not misused and that we have a set of insights we can trust and use.

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Tell ‘em about the money, honey

Next Monday I’m going to a film premiere – get me.

The occasion is one of the IPA’s “Focus on Effectiveness” events which celebrate 30 years of the IPA Effectiveness Awards by premiering new films of some of the most inspiring case studies from its remarkable databank.You should go, and you can get tickets here.

The case in the spotlight on Monday evening is PG Tips and I’ll be chairing the panel discussion following the screening with Nigel Jones of Publicis, the original author of the paper back in his BMP/DDB days, and Ed Warren, the creative director from Mother, who works on the current Al and Monkey campaign. The PG Tips film is not only a great excuse to revisit some brilliant PG Tips advertising of the last 30 years, it’s also an incredible testament to two things: the power of a likeable, flexible brand idea, and consistent investment in TV advertising. The film has some excellent lessons, particularly about how the adstock invested in clever, entertaining simians was adapted and reinvented to powerful effect.

So it is very timely to read that PG’s traditional rival, Tetley, is going for a similar feat of adstock reignition and bringing back the Tetley tea folk.

Excited at this advertising serendipity, I clicked on Campaign Live to see how MCBD has approached the task and I see that what they have given us is a great metaphor for the reviving effects of a good cup of tea as the Tetley tea folk are awoken from their ten year sepia sleep and brought back to glorious technicolour life by some spilled tea. We see that familiar mix of 2D animation with live action, we hear the familiar voices “Stanley? Gaffer? Tina?” and already I can’t wait for the next one in the series.

At Thinkbox we often present on the theme of how TV hardwires positive brand associations into your long term memory and the vital importance of emotion in decision making, but I was still struck by how a few seconds’ reminder of something loved and familiar can evoke such affectionate feelings in me. I wish Tetley every success with the new/classic campaign. It’s a great strategy and, with some clever writing that brings out both the fresh and familiar as the campaign progresses, there’s every reason for it to be highly profitable;but they will need to stick at it as PG Tips has for half a century.

It’s made me wonder what other greatly loved brand icons might be dusted off. I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in adland, they’re working on a campaign for the reintroduction of the Honey Monster…

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The love that finally dares to speak its name

I’ve got used to reading articles from organisations which operate largely within internet marketing with a nice cup of tea by my side, so that I remain calm. But I recently read one the other day from Comscore (the major internet research company) that made me think someone from Thinkbox must have infiltrated them, bound and gagged its staff, and started writing blogs for them.

It was entitled ‘The Lure of TV Advertising for Internet Businesses’ and it examined why so many online businesses are now advertising on TV. It gave three reasons why TV is so attractive to online businesses:

1. TV viewing is growing
2. No other medium can compete with TV on instant impact and reach
3. The effectiveness of TV has not declined, probably the reverse

Remember, this is Comscore writing! I urge you to read it for yourselves. Although they are writing about the US all their points hold true for Europe.

It struck a chord, not only because it felt like we’d written it, but also because a couple of months ago we ran our own analysis of online brands advertising on TV and found they had become the fastest growing TV advertising category.

We found that investment in TV advertising dominated online brands’ advertising investment (over 70%). Investment had grown by nearly 2,000% over the last five years (172% a year) and the number of online brands on TV had increased by 700%, with two online brands in TV’s Top 10 spenders.

The main reason for this is clear and empirical: online brands have first hand, immediate experience of TV advertising’s ability to create online traffic. 94% of the UK claims to have gone online as a direct result of watching TV in the last 12 months, according to our research. And this activity is one reason for TV advertising’s market-leading growth this year; even brands with a long purchase cycle, like cars or banks, can see the interest that their TV ad has generated, even if they have to wait for the sale.

We’re seeing this in action at the moment with our new TV ad. Our ad has been on TV for less than a week and already it has been sought out on our website and YouTube over 300,000 times, Harvey has garnered nearly a 1,000 Facebook friends and our website traffic is up 400%. However, you won’t catch us confusing cause and effect. We know that’s only happened because our ad has been seen over 50,000,000 times on linear TV already.

Online brands are enjoying the immediate traffic that TV creates, but in a few years’ time they’ll be blessing their TV investment for building them brands that can withstand new entrants. I am always very happy to say that search and websites are the best thing that’s ever happened to TV advertising – I don’t find it even slightly embarrassing or compromising – and I always hoped that, one day, internet companies and specialists might return the compliment. Big thanks, Comscore, for starting the love-in.

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When is ‘enough’ enough?

The results of two new research studies have made me question one of the final shibboleths of media planning: the idea that there is such a thing as an ‘effective frequency’ which can be easily defined and which offers a single, optimal level at which the advertising ‘works’.

The first piece of research was a neuroscientific study we carried out. It revealed how we process advertising when we watch TV as opposed to when we are engaged in various online activities. It clearly points to the importance of emotion and engagement in driving performance – much more so than attention – and underlines recent insights into the role emotional association and implicit memory play in strengthening a brand’s position within our choice set. As the neuroscientists say, “the neurones that fire together wire together”.

The second study, conducted with the IPA, compared data from the IPA Databank with scores from the Gunn Report and showed conclusively that creativity does pay…just not necessarily in the way we expected. There was a much greater pound-for-pound performance amongst creatively-awarded ads in terms of driving efficiency (i.e. how much relative share of voice drives market share), but the differences in absolute effectiveness were less marked for the simple reason that the creatively-awarded campaigns spent less and therefore achieved a lower share of voice, despite the fact that they were eleven times more efficient at driving market share. One of the explanations for this may be that many of these campaigns were advised that they could ‘get away with’ spending less to achieve their target levels of awareness, recall, stand-out etc. so the ads could achieve them with lower levels of frequency.

So what of ‘effective frequency’?

Qualitatively, we have seen many examples of ad campaigns where respondents appear quite happy to watch and enjoy their favourite ads time and time again; Barclays ‘Waterslide’ and’s Meerkat ads are good recent examples of this. We can all think of ads that we would be happy to keep seeing, like Honda ‘Cog’, Sony ‘Balls’ and Cadbury’s Gorilla. It is clear that there is no single magic number beyond which the message has landed and the job is done. Every additional exposure to an ad is part of the continued wiring together of neurones into positive associations with the brand. These can last a lifetime and relate far more closely to business performance and incremental profit than the message cut-through approach that underpins much of the thinking behind the concept of ‘effective frequency’.

I’m not denying that ads can sometimes reach their maximum desirable frequency, after which even I start shouting at the TV. But very, very few campaigns get to the Crazy Frog level and recency is a major factor here. No-one wants to see the same ad 20 times in a single day, but, spread across a month, that frequency becomes totally acceptable.

All of the new insights from behavioural economics and neuroscience (two polar opposite disciplines yielding very similar insights) about the power of fame and emotion to influence the way we use implicit associations to ‘short-cut’ the decision-making process have successfully weaned us away from the ‘message myth’, swaddled in the comfort blanket of influence models such as AIDA and DAGMAR. Perhaps now is the time to rethink the role of frequency within the mix; especially if it also means refocusing on the potential payback achieved by higher levels of advertising creativity.

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180 degree turn at Media 360

A few years ago, a prevailing theme at Media 360 was that TV was dead – or at least in intensive care. It was depressing (because it was nonsense).

A couple of years ago, following the launch of our joint study with the IAB looking at TV + online, the tone had shifted a little and there was a bit more positivity about TV’s future; TV was out of intensive care and walking around the ward. It was heartening.

Then, last week, its rehabilitation took a couple more strides. TV was voted the medium with the brightest future at Media 360, Thinkbox (ahem) won Best B2B Marketing at the Marketing Society Awards, and Group M announced the latest set of positive numbers for TV ad revenue (albeit coming from a low base for comparison). The narrative for TV has moved on dramatically in the last few years and this is great news.

What was even better about Media 360 was the way people talked about the internet. There was wide recognition that it is not a single medium, but a technology for delivering many different things (media included). This is a mark of its maturity. Added to this was a trend of not obsessively looking at the impact of the internet solely in terms of how destructive it might be, but instead looking at it in terms of how it benefits different media – and nothing more so than TV.

The media debate this year was refreshingly future-focused and all the so-called ‘traditional’ media found things to say that indicate a much healthier future than naysayers and digital fundamentalists have suggested in the recent – but, hopefully, quickly forgotten – past.

All in all, Media 360 – with a few exceptions – had a healthy focus on promoting and understanding the future that stood in stark contrast to the recent past. I look forward to more of this next year.

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That’s Numberwang!

Twitter announced last month that it had reached its ten billionth tweet. That, dear readers, is Numberwang. The news provoked the esteemed Claire Beale to comment that Twitter had therefore become a ‘mass medium’.

Brand Republic recently ran the following story: ‘A cinema ad for South African Tourism delivered an estimated 451,289 impacts last weekend, according to figures from cinema sales house Digital Cinema Media’; this was shortly followed by another story about cinema delivering ‘at least one million impacts over the weekend’ for a new ad from Puma. More classic cases of Numberwanging.

We’re no better at Thinkbox; we can Numberwang with the best. We have taken to telling people that 2.5 billion TV ads are seen every day in the UK, at normal speed. In our monthly reports we now have a page where we list the brands with the most ‘views’ in the month (fyi in February it was Morrisons with 695 million TV ‘views’).

All of those numbers are accurate – but what do they mean?

Rather than bandy about 2.5 billion TV ads a day, it’s infinitely more helpful to tell people that the average person sees 43 each day. Rather than the baffling number of 695 million impacts, it would be more meaningful to say that 87% of the UK had seen the Morrisons’ ad an average of 14 times in February. Or that 0.8% of the UK population saw the South African Tourism cinema ad once each that weekend (i.e. like buying one spot in a repeat of Rising Damp on ITV3).

When Mitchell and Webb first created their brilliant Numberwang sketch, about a gameshow based on utterly meaningless and absurdly random numbers, it’s tempting to think they had the media industry in mind. On the surface, it looks like there may be some method to the maths; but it is in fact just plain madness. Numberwanging is the (ab)use of statistics to impress and divert people, but ultimately to obfuscate rather than enlighten.

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