Lies, damned lies, and statistics

    1 Jun 2018   |      Paul Higgins
Lies, damned lies, and statistics

So a friend of mine on social media – no she is real – liked an article on linkedin and it's title grabbed my attention.

"Print magazines are growing despite the dominance of social media."

And my immediate reaction was …

Here is the link to the article.

I was intrigued by my friend's endorsement as she works for a large market research company, plus we've worked with publishing clients so I was curious to give this a read to get an update on the current state of the industry.

But the 600 word article had me like …

The article, which was discussing luxury and apparel marketing, was published May 27 2018, so at the time of my writing this article was only a few days old. It referenced a number of sources and because I thought it was a bold statement I decided to dig a little deeper.

Supporting documents

Noted as a "new" report, the first source linked to an article from the Current Daily, dated May 2016. It makes mention of the Zenith Luxury Advertising Expenditure report from which it pulls statistics. A source is not provided so I can only assume we’re talking 2016 figures?

A two year old article is not what I would describe as new, it’s not even recent! But as it turns out it's about as recent as any of the other sources contained in the article.

The author makes the following statement:

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that brands are leaving print for online marketing opportunities.

Ironic, I thought, because the headline for the previous source was "Digital fashion adspend on the rise as print suffers!" 

Anyway, what was interesting was that I was able to find a more recent report from Zenith and this is just some of the information published on May 14 2018, that I think is perhaps more relevant:

Luxury advertising is rapidly shifting towards digital media, led by luxury hospitality brands. 50% of luxury hospitality advertising will be digital this year, up from 47% in 2017, according to Zenith’s Luxury Advertising Expenditure Forecasts 2018, published today. Across all luxury brands, 33% of advertising will be digital this year, up from 30% in 2017.

High luxury brands are more exclusive and iconic, and advertise in prestigious media with limited reach, spending 57% of their budgets on magazine advertising in 2017. This proportion is falling, but slowly: we still expect 55% of high luxury adspend to go to magazines in 2019.

Digital advertising is now responsible for almost all the growth in luxury adspend.

Meanwhile, the continued decline of print consumption poses a particular challenge for high-end luxury brands, which still rely heavily on magazines to communicate their brand values.

Reading further, I wanted to fact check this statement regarding Vogue magazine;

sales of the magazine have seen a steady rise … circulation is 220,000, up from 135,000 in 1989

The author does not provide a reference so I did a quick Google search and uncovered the following information compiled by Statista.

Statistic: Circulation of Vogue magazine in the United Kingdom (UK) from 1st half 2003 to 2nd half 2016 (in 1,000 copies) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

The Statista description also includes:  "Vogue's circulation peaked in second half 2006 at a 170 thousand copies but saw a general downward trend over the next nine years with circulation figures reaching their lowest point in the first six months of 2013 at 151 thousand copies."

Although this is only data taken from the UK, beginning 2003, the peaks, troughs and general trend seen in the chart cast doubt about the accuracy of the author's statement, especially the phrase "steady rise." I found it strange that the author would want to consider pre-internet data too. What is more interesting to discuss is the recovery seen since 2015. 

The next source was a report published in 2001 studying trends captured between the twenty year period between 1980 and 2000. I would be tempted to preface this information with the term "historically!"

The next paragraph began with the following statement:

The impact of print advertising is significant. A study that measured the performance of 5 media channels including radio and TV found that print has the highest ROI at 120%.

The problem, again, is that this study was published in 2014 and it reviews data collected a year earlier. I ask myself, in this madcap mobile world is this study still relevant after five years? But it is the next part of the article that possibly most concerns me. And look, maybe I get this wrong but to me the article suggests to the reader, that as a consequence of these impressive results (in 2013 remember) businesses were launching their own publications. And there is a quote from a marketing director supporting this.

But you see … the thing is … the quote pre-dates the study (2012) and the publication is launched in 2011 – a full THREE YEARS BEFORE the study.

Truth, Trust and Transparency

All content creators have responsibilities.

During research for another article How to build trust with your website visitors, we found similar stories on the topic with the same quote appearing over and over again. However, with few exceptions, authors were neither citing the source nor explaining that it was taken from a 15 year old study.

That would be important to know don’t you think? Not only who but when a piece of information was collected. Otherwise I would be shortlisting a Blackberry for my next mobile phone in 2018?

We all have a tendency to use research as a drunkard uses a lamppost – more for support than illumination.
David Ogilvy

Data should be selected, understood and then a hypothesis tested.

The article that unexpectedly appeared in my news feed didn't do this. It ignores the more recent and pertinent data and I would go so far as to suggest that the data in this article has been presented to purposely mislead.

Further reading

Hospitality leads digital transformation of luxury category - Zenith, May 2018

Out of print: NME’s demise shows pressure on consumer magazines - The Guardian, March 2018

Paul Higgins
Business owner, Graphic designer, Web developer, Brand and marketing strategist, Adobe Creative Cloud wizard, Business Catalyst Premium Partner, Adobe Community Professional, Passionate Liverpool FC supporter, Muse Advisory Board Member, Semi-retired (tried and failed at least 17 times) Futsal player for Dribblers FC and Toothless Tigers, BC Sandpile activist, Liverpool International Academy and Burwood FC coach, can juggle and do over 1,000 keepie-ups (just not at the same time - come on!)


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