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Statistics – love ’em or loathe ’em

Posted by putsimply on 9th August 2007

‘There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.’ This well-known saying is part of a phrase attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and popularised in the U.S. by Mark Twain and sums up many people’s views on the manipulation of statistics by goverments and the press. But… where would we PRs be without them?

One thing we can guarantee is that if a story is put out with juicy statistics in it, and on the weirdest subjects possible, the journalists will pick it up and run with it. Health topics are always popular but the ones that hit the jackpot are men v women ones – especially if it involves driving.

However, the article based on a survey that really tickled my fancy this week was one in the DT on Tuesday about women’s shopping habits. Debenhams had released a survey which said that British women own £1.4 billion worth of clothes they feel guilty about buying and the purchase of which their significant others have no knowledge. Apparently one women with a joint account has managed to get her husband to believe that “Hobbs is a hardware store”.

This sparked a debate in the office as to which of the list tactics of distraction the female of our PR species employed to sneak purchases into the home and just what our other halves, or parents, did not believe we needed more of.

Here are the statistics: 20% had left bags in the back of the car and spread their appearance over a few days. The majority had at some stage lied about the cost of an item of clothing. However, no one has yet resorted to taking out a red pen so that they can mark down the swing tags before taking them into the house as did a person in the article (which unfortunately is not on-line so I cannot put a link in to it). Jeans, shoes and bags turned out to be the items most likely to be greeted with the comment “what do you need another one of those for?”.