I saw an article in Ad Age today headline: Banks That Spend the Most on TV Ads Performed the Best. It referred to "A new report from financial-services research firm Aite Group, which examined ad-spending trends and return on advertising performance of 32 of the largest 50 U.S. retail banks from 2006 through 2008, found that top 25% highest-performing banks are those with TV-heavy buys.". The data was provided by TNS.
Great news for TV sales reps. Likewise for TV production companies. But a sucker's bet for bank marketing executives who would rip out that page of Ad Age and run into their CFO's office to defend a recommendation to spend more on TV.
First, this "study" didn't isolate the non-media marketing variables which may have affected the outcome. Little things like customer service quality, direct marketing spending programs, message effectiveness, word-of-mouth, etc. Bet they didn't count the number of toasters given away either.
Nor does it appear to have accounted for other characteristics of the banks themselves which may have driven performance higher. Price perhaps. Or interest rates charged/paid. Or branch location demographics. Or in-branch cross-sell incentives. Or other things which would never show up in syndicated spend data.
So what can a bank marketing executive take away from this study? Nothing. They just measured what was easy to measure and didn't answer ANY of the open questions surrounding the payback on marketing investments beyond a reasonable doubt. Worse, it is the apple and marketers are Eve. It beckons with faint promises to fulfill the desire to believe that it may offer "evidence" of the beneficial impact of marketing.
If you value your credibility, don't circulate stuff like this within your marketing organization, and don't EVER use it in discussions with a savvy financial executive. When you see a headline like this, just pass it along to your trustworthy, naturally-skeptical research professional and ask them to find the flaws.
Stuff like this isn't research. It's PR. One bite of this apple will cost you your reputation - perhaps permanently.
We'll keep working on raising the standards in the media on what passes for good content.