One-Dimensional Decisionmaking
November 16, 2012, 5:10 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

There’s a certain type of phone-company commercial featuring some guy in front of some ostensible SWPL focus-group in an improbable location showing them charts. The charts compare His Phone Company to, like, three others. Some kind of single-dimensional quantity (‘coverage’ or something) is being graphed, and what the chart shows is that His Phone Company does much better than the others on that metric, whatever it is.

The SWPL people smugly nod their heads and – after being shown the dominance of His Phone Company on that one single metric – are apparently instantly ready to sign on. “Your Company is clearly the best!”

And then there are some shenanigans involving the guy tongue-in-cheekly demonstrating the very advanced mathematical principle that if he rearranges the bars on the bar chart, or shows The Metric on a pie chart instead of a bar graph, or whatever, then His Phone Company looks just as good.

The SWPL people think that’s hilarious and silly, because, of course, they are smart enough to recognize that it “doesn’t matter” how you plot or visually demonstrate The Metric. Maybe some dumb people (like in West Virginia) might be fooled by that ol’ trick, but not them! On account of how smart they are.

I basically just hate everyone involved in this commercial. But more to the point, they’re all just idiots. Who says that that one particular Metric is a sufficient way to choose your phone company? And why do they feel so smart and smug for making their decision entirely based on one bar chart? Maybe I just see this commercial as a microcosm of Smart People decisionmaking in general. One dimension is enough, a single chart of a single thing presented by a good-enough-looking guy – they are Smart for deciding things that way, and for someone to disagree with that would just be hilarious and preposterous.

Personally, if a phone company representative were trying to convince me to sign on to his phone plan on the basis of one single metric, and acted like it was funny or clever to rearrange the bar chart to make the point that it “doesn’t matter how you look at it” (=the Metric he decided to show me), in a Bayesian sense I would probably actually infer that His Phone Company is most likely worse than one of the others overall, i.e. in a bunch of ways that he decided not to show me, and he’s trying to distract me from entertaining that possibility, while flattering my Smartness at the same time, in the hopes that I’ll just sign on with him without thinking about it much.

Was that supposed to be my takeaway from this ad campaign? Because if so, well done.

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