Saturday, May 4, 2013

The lies we (are asked to) tell...

My job is interesting. I am asked to do some unusual, intriguing, things.
A few weeks ago I was approached by a marketing company interested in promoting financial products. They were trying to plan a campaign to persuade us to buy more of a particular financial products. They could have been insurance policies, could have been mortgages, could have been pensions. Could have been pensions. Might have been pensions. So let's say they were, just for the sake of argument, selling underpants.

The campaign, I was told, was intended to say "underpants are the most frightening things in the English language". But ("and here comes the science bit"), advertisers must substantiate their claims. So could I do a piece of research to substantiate the claim that "'underpants' is the most frightening word in the English language"?

Well, my university is keen for us to bring in resources that we can use to invest in research. So I said "ok", and did a bit of reading.

It turns out that a lot of us are pretty ignorant, avoidant, and nervous about pensions - sorry - underpants. We don't really understand them, are discomforted, avoid thinking about them... but aren't really scared.

So... a teleconference ensued. I said I'd take the work, but said that any conclusions I could draw would depend on what I'd find, but I didn't think it was likely that 'underpants' would prove as frightening as, say 'childbirth' or 'castration'.

Long pause. The campaign, I was reminded, was predicated on "the word 'underpants' is the most frightening word in the English language", and my role was to back that up.

The point of this story is what happened next: "Sure, Peter. So how much would we have to pay for you to lie for us?"

I haven't heard back. Yet. I'm happy to do the work - a few thousand pounds consultancy can translate effortlessly into a PhD studentship. But I don't expect to get another call. 

It'll be interesting to watch the underpants advertising scene over the next few months (and I won't be using that phrase again soon).

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