How to Ritson: A beginner’s guide to denial, dismissal & downplay

In this guest post, Dan Monheit, deconstructs some of Professor Mark Ritson's recent arguments about the digital ad industry.

If you’re an industry enthusiast like me, there’s no doubt you’re also wondering how someone as intelligent as Mark Ritson (Adjunct Professor, PhD in marketing) can be so loudly, proudly and outlandishly anti-digital.

Dan Monheit

Dan Monheit

The very same digital that’s democratised the world’s information, started revolutions, connected billions and afforded brands their biggest marketing opportunities of a generation.

While I’m no professor (just a couple of lowly degrees and a decade building an agency), I have taken the liberty of pulling together this handy ‘How to Ritson’ guide in the interest of helping others wrap their head around it.

It’s based on watching many of Ritson’s talks, both live and online (including the one at Mumbrella 360), and should assist anyone looking to catapult their own career with outlandish, contrarian sensationalism.

Mark Ritson’s presentation at Mumbrella360 2016

Step 1: Stats (where else would we start?)

Stats. Use lots of stats. Use them in long, winding stories, in tables, on graphs and in diagrams. This works extra well if you’re a professor. Most people won’t understand them or be too intimidated to publicly challenge them. This is especially handy in the many instances you’ll be using stats that don’t tell the whole story.

For example:

Comparing the amount of video content being consumed on TV (84%) to the amount of video content being consumed on all other devices including phones and computers (16%).


Yes, 84% is an incredibly high figure, and should be very exciting if you’re in the business of selling TV sets. But if you’re a marketer, it’s worth asking what this 84% of video content being consumed on TV sets is actually comprised of.

People watching Netflix, Stan, Youtube, Apple TV, live sport via subscriptions apps (NBA, MLB, NFL), illegally downloaded movies and TV shows, along with dozens of other options, are of no value to local advertisers. All this stat proves is that people prefer watching video content on a bigger screen than a smaller screen. Stop press.

The same goes for comparing the reach of radio with Facebook. While radio’s reach of 75% looks huge compared with Facebook’s paltry 42%, this is primarily a good news story for people selling radios.

For brands, how many of the country’s hundreds of different radio stations are they meant to advertise across to get access to this reach? I guess all of them. All of the time. And this assumes, of course, that nobody’s using their radio to listen to international stations, which again, is of no use to local advertisers.

Step 2: Employ cheap tricks from the field of behavioural economics

Behavioural Economics is a field of study that explores the biases and heuristics (human quirks) that cause us to make consistent, irrational decisions. Once you understand these biases, it becomes easy to work them to your advantage.

Take anchoring as an example. Anchoring occurs when we use an initial piece of information that’s been presented to us to make subsequent judgments. Once an anchor has been set, we can’t help but make other judgments by adjusting away from that anchor.

 This makes anchoring an invaluable technique for disguising important, but annoyingly negative stats. Simply dwarf the negative reality by presenting outlandishly larger, more negative figures first.

For example, if you’re trying to minimise the sting in the data that reveals that 18% of TV is watched while second screening, preempt it with a (guessed) statistic that 50% of TV is watched while second screening. When you reveal that it’s actually only 18%, your audience will be dancing in the aisles.

This move goes from good to great when Ritson presents the 50% anchor point as the average answer given by a group of ‘out of touch’ agency people, to the question of how much TV they thought was being second screened. Brilliant!

Let’s review the 1-2 combo in slow mo.

  1. 18% seems minimal compared to 50% (which was only ever a guessed number to begin with). In reality, 18% is major. Assuming even distribution of second screening across actual content and ad breaks (highly unlikely but tragically, I don’t have the data), this means that at least 180 people out of every thousand an advertiser purchases is definitely ignoring their ad.
  2. The audience is left laughing at what idiots agency people are, given how far off the 18% they were. They’re laughing because agency people thought they were being ripped off by 50%, but they’re actually only being ripped off by 18%. Ha! Those agency idiots!

Step 3. Offer False Gifts

By acknowledging (enthusiastically) how impressive the growth of digital companies like Facebook and Instagram are, you’ll be able to lull your audience into a false sense of objectivity. Even better, discuss how much you support paid search, because if you can see the value in paid search, then surely you would see the value in social, if there was any to see, right?

Don’t worry that this ignores the reality that for many, paid search (other than direct brand and/or competitor terms) isn’t a worthwhile pursuit. Paid search is incredible if you have an online conversion point (e.g. a sale, a booking or enquiry form) and the ROI for your keywords stacks up.

However, paid search is all but useless if you’re one of thousands of brands only available through offline channels like supermarkets. In this case, we’re back to tried and trusted metrics like reach and frequency. Facebook, with its local user base of 15 million, unprecedented targeting options and bevy of formats can be pretty effective here, especially if you’re not into wastage.

Step 4: Misdirection.

This will be one of the trustiest weapons in your arsenal. Use it often, with enthusiasm, and with confidence. Everybody knows that if you can get people worked up into a frenzy about something that sounds related to what you’re trying to argue, but in reality has nothing to do with it, you’ll be halfway home before they notice.

If DaVinci could have painted misdirection, it would have looked exactly like the ‘how social is social media’ rant that’s become a Ritson hallmark. This long, drawn out, entertaining look at how few people follow brands on social media is golden. It leaves the audience entirely convinced that nobody follows brands. Pause for applause. Good job. Here’s a ribbon.


In reality, people following brands makes two fifths of fuck all difference as far as how effective social media platforms can be as advertising channels.

Nobody who actually works in this part of the industry has talked about vanity metrics or niceties like co-creation, brand love, one-to-one relationships or advocacy for at least 18 months (things move quick in this part of the world).

Social, especially Facebook, is an advertising channel and a brilliant one at that. Nobody watches TV, reads magazines or listens to the radio to engage, co-create or bond with brands either. This doesn’t mean that historically, they weren’t excellent ways for advertisers to get their message out.

The technique of misdirection can also be applied to the health of advertising on TV. Publishing a graph that shows a steady spend on TV over time (as opposed to the expected decline) is a great way to get people discussing spend on TV. This will neatly dodge the issue of whether it’s actually a worthwhile thing for advertisers to spend money on.

Anybody past their 12th birthday understands the concept that spend does not equate to value, that popularity does not equate to effectiveness. This is especially true in a country like Australia where we have a wonderful tradition of advertising on TV, just as soon as we can afford to do it.

Industry spend – up, down or sideways – is irrelevant. The value of what advertisers are getting is the only thing a brand owner should care about. Misdirection will keep this pesky conversation at bay.

Step 5: Divide and minimise

A wonderful way of downplaying the role of digital and social channels is to build up a far more complex picture of things that marketers should be controlling. Consider the bedrock of marketing theory, the 4 P’s (product, price, promotion and place) as Professor Ritson often does.

If you, as I’ve seen Ritson do, maintain that marketers should be looking equally after all four, then digital communications should at best be of 25% concern for the modern marketer.

But don’t stop there. Produce a list of 10 things that should fit within the Promotion P, and ergo, digital and social should not command more than 2.5% of a marketers attention.

Just spare a thought for those marketers confined to working within the confines of reality. Yes, it would be incredible for them to have open slather on all four P’s, but most marketers today are lucky if they get the final say over an annual comms plan.

Nobody in Australia who’s marketing higher education, automotive, or dozens of other industries has an ounce of influence over the product, the price or the place that their products are sold.

Mark Ritson‘s presentation at the Commercial Radio Australia conference 2016

Step 6: Build on bullshit that’s already accepted as fact, while calling everything else bullshit.

It turns out that bullshit smells less like bullshit when it’s placed on top of other bullshit that everyone’s already used to smelling. Leverage this by launching a veritable shit-storm on digital metrics, especially when compared to the robust, undeniable truth of TV ratings.

Little do people know that the highly respected, unquestionable figures that drive hundreds of millions of TV dollars are based on some 3,500 boxes collecting dust in lounge rooms around Australia. Yes, 3,500! I know, it’s incredible. For comparison, there are 30,000 pokies machines in Victoria alone.

Of course, the 3,500 boxes are a ‘representative sample’ – a cute relic of a bygone era, where having real time data on every single user was an impossible pipe dream.

Speaking of ‘representative samples’, let’s not forget the radio ratings determined by asking people to jot down (in a notebook, one presumes) what they remember listening to at half hour intervals. Or newspaper readership, forensically calculated by asking punters what they’ve read, even if it was just a quick glance at the Odd Spot while waiting for their soy latte.  

But don’t worry about any of that. The best defence is a good offence. Keep going.

So what if Facebook was able to identify the recent issues with it’s data? So what if Facebook was forthcoming and brought these issues to the public’s attention? So what if Facebook is capable and motivated to fix the issue, improving the real time metrics it shares with advertisers about its 15 million Australian users?

Deep down, we all know that Facebook’s got nothing on our 3,500 OzTAM boxes.

So there you have it. A quick guide to winning over audiences like the best in the business. Just be careful. When used correctly, it’s powerful stuff!

Dan Monheit is director of strategy and owner at Hardhat Digital


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