Posts Tagged ‘Big Data


Marketing to Data Ghosts

Today, many a creative brief is a direct outgrowth of market research. Clients amass largely anecdotal data, out of which they construct a generic audience model. With a gracious nod to reality, that model most often describes a range of “personas,” each with a different relationship to the product.

I’ve met these mannequinized stand-ins many times. Whether it’s Priscilla Proactive, Inez Informed or Ned Nervous, I’m resigned to sharing an agency’s post-modern decor with a gang of data ghosts. I shudder to think what agency life will be like when, inevitably, Google or IBM develops data-driven persona-androids to oversee every project.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Priscilla will tell the copywriters — joining the throng of intelligences brimming with advice. Nor will the art directors have it any easier.

“I wouldn’t be caught dead in that car,” Inez will insist. “89.2% of me drive a Volvo.”

But in the paradigm to come, account execs will likely have the easiest adjustment. Not only have they been data-driven for decades but, like Ned, they’re used to worrying about everything.

“What if I don’t understand the concept?” Ned will ask. “Let’s put all the benefit bullets in the headline.”

Talk about preaching to the choir.

Data-driven drivel
Kidding aside, what I object to is this: The tacit assumption that anecdotal data, quoted verbatim, should dictate messaging strategy. It makes me wonder if a temporal-lobe suppressant has been mixed into the Kool-Aid of modern marketing theory. That’s the only way I can imagine that so many clients and agency-types fail to realize how unfounded that assumption is.

As an illustration, consider the following from Samsung:

The Infinity Display has an incredible end-to-end screen that spills over the phone’s sides, forming a completely smooth, continuous surface with no bumps or angles. It’s pure, pristine, uninterrupted glass. And it takes up the entire front of the phone, flowing seamlessly into the aluminum shell. The result is a beautifully curved, perfectly symmetrical, singular object.

The what, now? If the display is “incredible,” why should I believe you? But, OK, I guess you’re telling me the screen is smooth. So there’s no reason to mention its lack of bumps — as if any smooth screen could also be bumpy. Next, you assert that the screen’s smoothness is also evident in its lack of angles.

Now, in what branch of Geometry do angles intersect with smoothness? I’ll have to bleep over that, too, and assume the Samsung Galaxy 8 has a flat, smooth screen. Except now, you also assert that the screen glass is “pure, pristine, uninterrupted.” First off, “uninterrupted” is exactly what I expect from a smooth, flat screen. Second, there isn’t too much about “purity” that isn’t included in “pristine.” But the fact is, glass isn’t pristine. As most people know:

Glass is a combination of sand and other minerals that are melted together at very high temperatures.

You realize I understand English, right?

Mistaken-identity messaging
Maybe you think I’m an idiot, with no grasp of the cultural context that generated your message. Is the glass “flowing seamlessly [smoothly?] into the aluminum frame,” because it’s molten? Are you saying I’ll burn my fingers on your phone? Or is your target named Norman No-critical-thinking-skills?

I suspect there are two sources for this inflated sales pitch. First, is the conviction that flowery language confers an aura of Quality to any product. I half-expected to see the phrase “impeccable craftsmanship,” that turns up in luxury car spots — even though, as every former autoworker knows, today’s cars are cranked out by mindless robots.

The second source is Market Research, the false friend of lonely ideologues. No doubt “pure,” “pristine,” “seamless,” “incredible,” “end-to-end,” and “spills over” all tested well inside a qualitative research facility. The result? A hapless copywriter, enjoined to work each of those words into a product blurb. It’s a laughable exercise that reminds me of those Vocabulary Builder assignments I used to get in 5th Grade.

And that’s how Samsung ends up with 56 words, dedicated to telling me the phone has a smooth, wrap- around screen that I might enjoy if I had any reason to care about such things. Too bad no reason is given. Instead, Samsung wants me to know its phone is “singular.” Right. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is singular. There’s nothing like it in the world, and there hasn’t been for over 500 years.

The Samsung Galaxy 8? It’s only singular to a data ghost, just brought to life by a research associate on Acetazolamide.


Beefy Big Data & A Question of Substance

The phrase “data-driven advertising” refers to the use of data gleaned from consumers’ online activity to deliver customized content to Web sites they are known to visit. Such content can take any number of forms, including advertorials, banners, interactive polling—some content staying constant, some swapped out for increased relevance to a particular user’s interests.

At issue, however, is whether the result is a message that actually targets a user or simply syncs with “what’s relevant” in a statistical sense. So if my cookies show I’m interested in glassware, you’ll go ahead and zap glassware-relevant content to my browser. But what will ensure you’ll sell me on the idea of buying yourChardonnay Value Packnow?

While data-driving is a recent phenomenon, claims for its effectiveness reach cult status in some circles. Results for data-driven ads are compared favorably by its supporters to results for “static ads.” But, as always, my question is, “Which static ads?” After all, the vast majority of static ads are so inadequate that any well-conceived alternative is bound to perform better.

Considering how complex data-driving mechanisms are, it’s easy to see how a confusion of cause and effect got started. But let’s be clear: it’s not data itself that turns the tide, but good campaign strategy delivered affectingly through data-driven means. Your data-driving strategy is of no consequence unless the thinking behind the delivery method actually connects with consumers.

Factvertising? Show me the money.
Obscuring the discussion of data-driven advertising is the term itself. Advertising has always been driven by data—in the form of observations made by creative talent. If the classic “Where’s the Beef?” campaign struck a chord in 1984, it had everything to do with the creative team’s ability to capture a previously observed personality type.

The consumer outrage expressed in the campaign is on display everywhere, no more so now than in the 1980s. But it took a creative imagination to repurpose this observation about human nature to support Wendy’s brand-value claims.

Essentially, the only thing that’s changed in the new paradigm is the source and detail of the data. Added to that, of course is the extra baggage of ideology, the idea that data-driven advertising is inherently better. But, as I see it, if Big Data is to have the predicted impact on consumers, we’ll need less mechanical applications than the “poll and comment” model on display at a microsite near you.

Synonymous with insight? Not so much.
One tenet of data-driven advertising is a commitment to develop creative concepts based on carefully- mined data. While that may make intuitive sense, the crux of the matter is what you mean by “based-on.” Should a data-driven headline contain a direct quote from a focus group attendee, or should the campaign’s creative environment capture the spirit, the atmosphere and emotional climate of the comment?

I vote for the latter. What matters is not what someone says, but the place their statement holds in their inner world. A consumer who says “I love Oreos” has something much more specific in mind than the statement itself suggests. Even the statement, “I love Oreos because they remind me of my childhood,” is only slightly less vague. We need to drill deeper to grasp the implications of that cookie. Was it the crunch, the filling—or the smile on Grandpa’s face as he sneaked you an extra one when Mom wasn’t looking?

How relevant? It’s relative.
Finally, let’s think carefully about the concept of Relevance. No matter how you slice it, relevance can only be defined contextually. So if data-diving tells you that a.) I like science fiction and b.) I’m looking to refinance my mortgage, you should think twice before sending me a message about mortgage rates while I’m trying to enjoy an episode of Battle Star Galactica on Hulu.

I mean, come on, I’m watching the show to relax; I’m not in the mood to think about interest rates or points, not to mention the hassle of fussing with the paperwork. Talking to me about refinancing in that context is like shouting into the wind. It is, in a word, irrelevant.

Ultimately, our current fascination with Big Data must be tempered with humanism, the sensitive, home-grown observations about human nature that creative artists have made for centuries. What motivates people? Look up from the spreadsheet, they’d tell you, and glance into the mirror. What you see there is the answer to every question about what drives people to respond to marketing stimuli.

Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY



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