The Spread

Two recent news stories from the world of medical research hold significant omens for the less scientific world of advertising media effectiveness.

First, the University of Hull, England analyzed the effects on consumers, in six clinical trials, of new-generation antidepressant drugs, incorporating hitherto unpublished data from the manufacturers.

Second, scientists from Duke University, North Carolina, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston examined the effect of differently priced painkillers on relieving pain.

The conclusions are damning stuff.

The antidepressant drugs worked no better than a placebo for the majority of patients with moderate depression, and only marginally better for those who were severely depressed. The control group did almost as well on placebos duplicating "more than 80% of the improvement seen in the drugs group." This compares with the placebo effect on pain, which is "about 50% of the response to pain medication."



The price of a dummy pain killer psychologically influenced the way patients responded to it. The same pill costing $2.50 worked "far better" than when marked down to 10 cents. In the full-price pill group, 85% felt less pain. In the cut price group, only 61% did.

As Camilla Cavendish in the London Times summarized it: "If placebos are so good at relieving pain, and even better at relieving depression, why aren't we studying placebos?"

These studies raise two observations about our advertising media effectiveness world and how we value what is offered.

First, if we really want to understand the true effects on customers of commercial communications, it's time we got to measuring the effect of different communications. What happens when we don't do it? Too often, we assume that advertising works without applying the discipline of finding out how well business performs in its absence.

Second, if media agencies want to be more valued by advertisers, perhaps it's time to stop the media holding companies' pursuit of new business by offering ever-cheaper servicing and begin to get real and charge higher prices for better added value services.

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