“Lots of women own bras!” says bra manufacturer

March 6th, 2012

If you want to make a headline – and, if you work in PR, that’s exactly what you’re interested in – here’s a neat little trick you can exploit: take a figure that’s relatively standard, and multiply it up by a large number – what you’re left with will seem impressive.

Take, for example, this from the BBC last year:

The British eat their way through billions of apples each year, and it’s the nation’s love affair with the fruit that has made it so popular today.

A billion apples sounds like an awful lot, but with a UK population of around 60 million, that’s around 17 apples each, per year. Not so impressive, then. While the BBC weren’t basing their story around the fact, it was included to give an impression that we’re all apple fiends, which the numbers perhaps don’t back up. 

The Daily Mail were guilty of a similar statistical trick recently, with:

British women hoard 156million bras with half admitting they own underwear they have never worn

No matter their size or shape, most women dread shopping for bras.

This makes it even more surprising that almost half of women have purchased bras they have never even worn.

According to research, a total of 156 million bras in Britain have gone to waste.

I don’t mind admitting that my knowledge of bras is peripheral at best, but it strikes me that the following sentence is key:

A poll of 2,000 women conducted by specialist retailer Sweatshop found that the average British female has a total of nine bras, but more than half of these are unused.

For one thing, the poll was conducted by a bra manufacturer looking to get into the news, via a polling company who can be reliably shown to be questionable around the data.

Furthermore, taking the results from a sample of 2,000 respondents and factoring up to an entire nation’s population is problematic, especially if the respondents can all be shown to be answering polling questions reliably.

Still, the headlines sounds fun and impressive, and it means as an editor you get not only the initial story, but you can spin it into a second piece around women’s relationships with their bra, so why bother questioning the data?