A new study of 10 years of medical research in one of the very top journals shows that reversals are not uncommon. This is where later evidence shows that a new medical practice is no better or worse than older practice (or doing nothing).
40% of the studies that examined a current practice found it shouldn’t have been adopted.
The problem is partly that tests of new practice tend to be biased towards being positive. So later, better, studies are going to find that a good number of their findings were wrong.
Also practice tends to adopt invasive practices perhaps due to patient pressure, and doctor desire, to “do something, rather than nothing”. Though there are also reversals to current practices that refuse to take up something new (e.g. vaccinate, take aspirin) because of some (often theory-based) fear, which turns out to be unfounded.
This shows that the advance of (medical) science, and evidence-based practice, is not a straight line. Reversals are common.
Now in marketing practice the tinniest whiff of evidence that something might be useful is enough to send lemmings running for the cliff! Fear of missing out? I’d put both the widespread adoption of banner and search advertising, marketing mix modelling, ROI calculations, and equity monitors in this camp. We praise doing something new, even if it is harmful.
Then there are things like loyalty programs which were adopted without any evidence at all, just theory.
When evidence finally does emerge that a practice is flawed there can be great reluctance to accept it – especially amongst those who make money from it. For example, how many market research agencies have changed their practices in presenting segmentation data after we showed comprehensively that brands do not differ from their competitors in the types of customer they attract? For example, marketers are still launching new loyalty programs with the aim of extracting lots more business out of existing customers.
And not enough marketers worry when “emperor’s new clothes” type questions highlight the astonishing lack of credible evidence and testing of techniques like mix modelling or brand equity based predictions. People even say things like “but if I stop doing this, what will I do instead”, as if doing something useless is better than doing nothing. Marketing needs to grow up, because the medical example shows how easy it is to get something wrong even when you are as careful and circumspect as doctors are.