Maybe it’s just me, but perhaps you too share my sinking suspicion that all this AI, all this data and machine learning, will ultimately create little more than the world’s most brilliantly optimized classified ads.
Oh they’ll be effective ads—remarkably so. They will forge an unprecedented level of tactical and transactional effectiveness. They will optimize the context of a wide variety of consumer journeys, they will weight the messaging hierarchy, they will include nearly infinite personalization integrated directly into the consumer experience.
They will do all these amazing, innovative, unheard of things every minute of every hour without ever taking a sick day or leaving for a new opportunity.
But they won’t fire human imaginations with the white hot power of pure delight.
My issue with marketing’s current obsession with data is no different than the longstanding challenge marketing’s had with strategy; it’s never simply about the information; persuasion starts with execution.
Because before we can personalize or contextualize or optimize any message, we need to earn peoples’ attention.
I don’t argue the dunning precision data brings to learning human behavior and inclinations. But as Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Data interprets what people want now, not what they might want next.
Data is all about information, but persuasion is also about inspiration.
Inspiration earns attention in our perpetually distracted world. Fresh interpretations introduce new thoughts, new sensations, new possibilities.
Consider this example from my earliest days… Say your data tells you the world needs to understand what a child experiences when they are angry; those feet stomping, tantrum throwing, dark, scary wells of rage…
What would we marketers do? Would we analyze childhood rage, try to explain it and intellectually capture it? Or would we dramatize it? Showcase it? Find a tremendously gifted young actor skilled enough to get in touch with her inner demons?
But chances are, we wouldn’t create crosshatched drawings of a boy in a wolf suit whose bed turns into a ship that sails off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are.
No. We wouldn’t.
And so we wouldn’t win the Caldecott and we wouldn’t redefine children’s literature and we wouldn’t be leading my list of the top five books of all time.
Data plays a crucial role in directing our efforts, in improving the strategic discipline, intent, and messaging of our work.
But the things that truly capture our attention are surprising, delightful, visionary concepts: the remarkable ideas that resonate long after the story ends.
Isn’t that what our clients deserve in their marketing messages?
It should come as no surprise that Bill Bernbach addressed this very issue over seven decades ago with prescient insight:
“There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this short or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier reading. They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising.
But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”
Indeed. Bring on the data. But never forget that great ideas will always be wild things. Let the wild rumpus start.