Blogs & Comment

Why Big Data doesn't work without creativity

New voices chime in on advertising's latest argument.

The world is full of Big Data dreams. Isn’t that term everywhere? Hell, I just used it myself. One place it comes up more often than a Mad Men reference is advertising. Marketing folk love their data. It’s the future! It’s efficient! It spawned the Geico Gecko! (Yes, really.) From all of this hype, emerges a chicken/egg question regarding the role of data and creativity, which feeds which, what comes first, etc., etc., until ultimately you slam your forehead on the desk. It’s also created divisions within the industry, as evangelists and skeptics butt heads, riddling comments sections with all-caps type-yelling— “CHARLATAN!” “DINOSAUR!”

Two interesting stories popped up on Ad Age this week that nicely poke this bear of an argument. First up was a report by Coca-Cola that found online buzz had no measurable impact on short-term sales. This of course led to a chorus of Nelsonian told-you-so’s on one side and yeah-but’s from the other. Thing is, as Coke’s senior VP of integrated marketing Wendy Clark subsequently pointed out, this finding can’t be viewed in isolation.

“No single medium is as strong as the combination of media,” she wrote. “We see this first-hand in our campaigns that integrate TV and social. We know our target consumers — teens and young adults — are consuming media on multiple screens in single sessions. This means the TV is on, a laptop is open and a smartphone is in hand. For marketers, this requires having a single, integrated conversation across those screens. When we do this well, we create significantly higher impact than any of those screens could do on their own.”

In short, data does work. But! You still need creative thinking to utilize it effectively across all media. This leads us to the perfectly reasonable, “It’s not the numbers, it’s how you use them.” Which brings us to the second story, covering an Advertising Week Europe panel featuring three industry giants in R/GA chairman and CEO Bob Greenberg, Radical Media chairman and CEO John Kamen, and Bartle Bogle Hegarty founder Sir John Hegarty. Hegarty came out swinging against what he views as an over-reliance on data in the industry right now, saying, “I’ve spent my life dealing with people who’ve got all the data in the world and yet they can’t invent anything.”

While Greenberg, understandably given his firm created Nike Plus product and platform, defended the creative use of data by saying the more Nike knows about him the more relevant content and information it can give him, Hegarty balked. He said brands have to be careful how they use information because there will inevitably be a backlash to these (voluntary or not) invasions of privacy. And, perhaps the most surprising coming from an ad man, he went on to question whether brands should even be trying to “know” their customers.

“To those brands that say ‘I understand you’ I say ‘Fuck off, you don’t understand me,” said Hegarty. “Mind your own business, I don’t want to be understood by you. I don’t understand myself sometimes… and it can be fun.”

For more of Hegarty on the future of advertising, here’s a solid ditty from Contagious‘ 2012 Most Contagious conference: