Darwin Day – Darwinian Marketing

Well today is Darwin day – 200 years since Darwin’s birthday and 150 years since his publication of  “On The Origin of Species.”

What Darwin did as a scientist was remarkable.  He developed a unified theory of origins that displaced the need for magical intervention and has been the basis for biological science and study for 150 years now.  (Sure, he didn’t predict genetics and DNA, but that’s what’s even more remarkable -the discovery of DNA suported his predictions).

So what has that got to do with marketing?  Some people talk about “brand DNA” but while I think that is a useful metaphor in some ways, I think it is not really about Darwinian marketing.

Darwin’s essential discovery was that if you have an organism replicating in a system, and that organism is able to mutate,  then you will necessarily end up with…. EVOLUTION!

That is, that mutations and changes in an organism will, over time, adapt to the environment to provide successively better performance (in the case of life on earth, performance equals reproductive and survival rates).


Question: So what has this got to do with marketing?  Answer:  Great marketing is Darwinian – it evolves.

A great example of this is split testing of advertising, as practiced by the great direct marketers in the 1950s and now resurrected by the digital marketers of the 2000s.

Split testing means running two different executions in the same situation, to see which advertisement attracts the greater interest, response (or click-through).  As an aside, in the old days of direct mail, different ads had a response address which differed so the advertiser could tell which advertisement the consumer was responding to.  Box 11 related to a particular advert, Box 12 to another.  So by comparing the responses to each different box, the advertiser could tell which was the more powerful advertisement.  Nowadays the same measurement can be done automatically by Google (for example).

The point about split testing is that you can – with a very small amount of effort – end up with a situation which mimics evolution.  YOU have to be the one responsible for creating the mutations (changes) in the advertising content.  But if you do split testing you will end up harnessing the same force which resulted in the human brain gradually evolving from the primordial soup.

When you split test, the winning execution “wins” in the reproductive stakes and gets to fight another day.  But when a “mutation” (improvement) to your advertisement means that it gets a better response – well that then becomes the dominant species of advertising – until the next improvement.

Of course, the reason you can simulate evolution is because you are able to measure the performance of your advertising.  If you can’t then you have big problems deciding whether to award survival to the old advertising or the new mutant.  Measurement allows you to simulate natural selection, rewarding more and more powerful executions.

So, setting up your marketing and advertising activities so they cannot help but evolve over time is one of the greatest things you can achieve as a marketer.  And Darwin would be proud!

Happy Darwin Day!

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