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Correlation Does Not Imply Causation

Today, more than ever, the marketing industry is under pressure to ignore this truism, that correlation does not imply causation.

Today, more than ever, the marketing industry is under pressure to ignore this truism, that correlation does not imply causation. We have so many analytics tools available now, and so many metrics to measure, especially in the internet marketing world. As such, we are more and more inclined to believe that the tools and metrics must provide us with valid actionable information. (Alternately, whether or not we believe it, somebody else holding the purse strings believes it.) Therefore, we look for trends and patterns, whether or not there is any statistical basis for them. There might not be enough data points, or there might be enough, but other correlating factors are ignored or unseen.

Moreover, there are effects that are almost impossible to measure. Today, if I get an upset stomach, I’d be inclined to reach for an Alka-Seltzer – not because of any current advertising campaign, but because I remember any one of several classic Alka-Seltzer commercials from 30 years ago. How do you measure that lasting effect?

Consider Bud Light. A little over a year ago they began their “Drinkability” campaign, but 2009 saw the first year-over-year sales decline in Bud Light’s history. Now Advertising Age refers to the campaign as “Bud’s Big Blunder” and the “Drinkability debacle”. But was Bud Light’s decline truly caused by the campaign even though it was correlated to it? What other correlated trends might have had more causuality? Might the deep recession have played a role? Might people’s changing beer tastes had an effect? Or, if the advertising did contribute, was it the concept or the execution?

It’s too easy to confuse correlation and causuality, and too easy to convince others that one equals the other. But marketers today more than ever must be vigilant; otherwise, we might be doing a disservice to our brands.

Domus is a marketing communications agency specializing in brand development through advertising, public relations, and social media marketing. For more information, please visit us at http://www.domusinc.com.

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