Name the Sin but not the Sinner

In Italian there is a convenient expression: "name the sin but not the sinner" ("nominare il peccato ma non il peccatore"). I try to follow this principle when presenting lessons we can learn from the mistakes of others. If the story is not well known then I will name no names unless it serves some public interest. This is the case of a magazine ad I have in front of me which I keep in my collection because it is a classic example of an approach that is at best misguided, though "idiotic" is the first word that comes to mind. Judge for yourself.

The full page ad announces that Bank X has been voted number one bank in its country, and gives a fragment of the ranking table, which looks something like this:

Rank Last year Name of Bank 2006 2005 2004
1____5_________Bank X_______4.2__2.7__3.1
1____3_________Bank Y_______4.2__3.3
3____2_________Bank Z_______4.0__3.6

Their message is clearly "Come to bank X because we are now number 1".

I am always amazed at how many managers obsess over these rankings. MacDonalds is maybe number one in restaurants but I still prefer the Restaurant Le Formal in Aix en Provence. In any case rankings are fickle things. You are number one this year, number three next year.

But in this case the fragment of the table they provide seems to be what is known to science as an "own goal". First of all, Bank X is not number one by a clear margin. It is not even unequivocably number one. It is joint number one. In other words, they have spent their money to tell me that I might as well go to bank Y because it is just as good. And that's just the beginning. Look at the previous years and you see that in fact Bank Y looks much more stable. They are equally good this year and they have been consistently good in the past. Even Bank Z looks pretty good. They are almost at the same level this year and were much stronger in 2005.

Based on the evidence of the ad I would be thinking that my first choice would be Bank Y, my second Bank Z and Bank X -- who paid for the ad -- would be my third choice.



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