Data collects, mostly into piles of digital rubble. Yet, data is prized and those who provide it are revered.
The high priests of data analytics have the floor right now, which is understandable and ridiculous at the same time. It’s understandable that clients are scared to death of their own intuition and risky creative ideas from the agency. And it’s ridiculous because marketing is for the brave. A degree of risk-taking is built into the process, no matter how “safe” the creative.
Yakob recently spoke to a group of conference attendees focused on “conversions”. Like all good speakers, he gave them something unexpected to chew on.
…The great promise of digital advertising was data. Instead of rough measures of intermediate effect drawn from surveys, we could get persistent, granular, behavioural data of the entire audience, segment them ever more finely, and serve them ads based on what they had done before, rather than what they said.
However, this led to us falling into a quantitative trap. Not everything can be reduced to numbers, which means whenever we consider data, we are susceptible to the McNamara fallacy. Robert McNamara was the US Secretary of Defense, who observed that making decisions based purely on numbers is dangerous. It begins when you measure what can be easily measured, such as all digital things, which is fine. But then we tend to disregard that which can’t be easily measured, and then to believe that what can’t be measured easily isn’t important. Finally, we begin to believe that anything not on our spreadsheet doesn’t exist, which leads to over-optimised and underwhelming advertising.
Over-optimised and underwhelming advertising is a violation of good taste and a waste of everyone’s time and money. Yet, we are up to our eyelids in it—one over-optimised and underwhelming advert after the next.
Is there any end to the river of drivel? There are bright spots, always, but I don’t see clients and their data-slinging pals having an epiphany anytime soon. Like you, I sit at the same table with these guys, and they’re always guys. Their false confidence is palpable, but it appeases the money spenders nevertheless.
This is not to say quants can’t help—they can help immensely when they spend the time to work through the client’s actual marketing problem(s). The marketing problem does not appear in any data sets, it’s a real-life equation. Since quants are gifted in research and data analysis, imagine the impact they could have by providing the insights that go on to inform the creative and lead to better work. That’s the promise and it remains unfulfilled.
What motivates people to pay attention, to believe, and to buy? This is the most fundamental question in our business and one that continues to go unanswered. The quant responds to this question with tactics that produce data. If the tactic does not produce data, it can’t be quantified and is therefore not a priority. Take a print campaign or any tactic that is meant to create awareness. If there’s no response vehicle built into the ads, the incoming data will be sparse to nonexistent. Does this mean print ads are worthless? To the quant and clients under their spell, the answer is yes.
The solution is better teams, and clients who are committed to taking the poetry in the creative and letting it serve the company’s business objectives. To do that, the CEO or CMO has to weigh the left and right brained ideas in the room and find a way to synthesize the best ideas from both camps into a winning strategy.
PREVIOUSLY ON ADPULP: Will The Quants’ Conquest of Adland Be Short Lived?