How do you know when an ad has succeeded?
Do you watch to see how many people talk about it? Do you observe as sales of one or other product zoom or crater? Or do you ask a research firm?
Research firms are always right. Except for those statistically significant occasions when their results prove to be doddering, bumbling groups of inebriated figures.
I have just been inebriated, you see, by a startling headline in Business Insider. It reads: "Samsung Made The Most Effective Smartphone Ad Of The Past 4 Years." The URL for this piece is even more compelling: "Samsung's Galaxy 5S ad kills Apple."
I searched for the corpse of the iPhone for a few seconds, before reading on.
A company called Ace Metrix has declared that Samsung's latest ad -- the one that happens to mention that the iPhone 5S's camera is but twee hogwash -- is the most effective smartphone ad since Apple's ad for FaceTime in 2010.
This Samsung ad, pleasant but by no means revolutionary, achieved an Ace Score of 715. Apple's latest ad for the 5S, which features a song about ace male members, scored a meager 638.
These scores are measured along axes such as likability, persuasion, relevance, and total nonsense. (I'm afraid I've got that last one totally wrong. It should have read "information.")
I certainly wouldn't like to suggest that either ad has altered human behavior more than Google Glass ever will. Nor will I attempt to examine whether comparing an ad for a new phone to one for an old phone has complete and utter sense buried within it.
It may well be that several senior Apple executives, on seeing this new Samsung ad, locked themselves in a very white room and slammed their heads repeatedly against its walls until it was no longer very white at all.
I did, however, have the name "Ace Metrix" stuck in some odd part of my mental yurt.
I worked hard to extract it, getting the help of several yurter sherpas. I finally managed to examine it.
In 2012, Ace Metrix (which also happens to have worked with, oh, Samsung once or twice) declared that one oeuvre was the "most effective" -- there is that phrase again -- tablet ad of the year.
It was one that shocked the world, changed the industry, made stars of the company's executives and, in all honesty, largely destroyed Apple as we know it.
Which ad was it? Why, the Microsoft Surface ad with the dancing teenies.