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Sunday, 5 February 2012

The March of Folly continues apace ... and what propels it? Confucius say "fancy language".

Pay attention while I tell you about inflation.

They paid me £340 a year (less tax) in my first job. Less than a Bristol bus driver gets a week now. But enough for me to go out dancing and drinking seven days a week.

Six years later as a copy chief I had a high time on £2,200 year, even with a wife and three kids to support.

Now they wonder whether £26,000 a year is enough for people out of work. And I see there is more "Quantitative Easing" in store.

That is just inflation. We are mortgaging our future to pay for our present.

As Merryn Somerset Webb wrote the other day in Money Week, we are paying interest on the interest on the money we owe.

"Imagine what your grandmother would say if you ran your personal finances like that."

Our leaders are not as smart as our grandmothers; and they are robbing our grandchildren. They are compounding our debt, not reducing it. They "compound for sins they are inclined to by damning those they have no mind to" as Samuel Butler wrote in Hudibras.

And what are they are inclined to? They love to piss away other people's money. India has just refused the aid we have been giving them because they don't need it. Anyhow it could never have gone to the poor in that playground of corrupt politicians.

What are they not inclined to? Tell the truth and upset voters. The last person willing to do that was the much underrated John Major who may have lost an election but retains more honour than the tax dodger and serial liar who followed him.

Confucius observed that "The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name." When you give fancy names people don't understand to simple things this is just a way of lying.

Marketers are very good at this, as I shall now explain.

In the first edition of Commonsense Direct Marketing back in 1982 I described a test we had run. We wanted to see which of 12 lists would work best, which of three prices, which of two ways of paying, which of two envelopes, which of two response gimmicks and which of three ways of replying.

We tested all these things simultaneously, using a test matrix. The best combination in theory worked 58 times better than the worst. I say "in theory" because results like this cannibalise each other.

When we analysed the results we discovered some surprising facts. The more initials people had before their surnames the more likely they were to reply; people with ethnic names were more likely to reply than those with English; and people in houses with names were more likely to reply than those with just numbers.

Maybe 20 years after this marketing people started talking about "kaizen" and "multivariate" testing. These sounded very impressive and mysterious - until I asked what they were. They were just what we had been doing all those years earlier - and we were by no means the first: we copied the idea from our clients The Readers' Digest.

As a matter of interest Kaizen eno yon dankai, which means "improvement in four steps" comes from an approach to manufacturing introduced in Japan by American statisticians after World War 2.

It is not at all the same thing. You can improve more than four things simultaneously through the kind of testing I have mentioned, but a fancy name will always do better at extracting money from people than the plain facts.

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