Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Death by Data.

If you have five minutes to spare today, you really ought to read David Brooks' op-ed from yesterday's "New York Times." It’s called “Death by Data.”

Though Brooks' article is nominally about politics and voting, it's really about advertising as well. Specifically you'll find he draws well the abyss between those who believe in the power of creative and those who believe in the "science" of data. You can find the opinion piece here.

Here’s the gist of Brooks’ argument, “the data-driven style of politics is built on a questionable philosophy and a set of dubious assumptions. Data-driven politics is built on a philosophy you might call Impersonalism. This is the belief that what matters in politics is the reaction of populations and not the idiosyncratic judgment, moral character or creativity of individuals.”

In other words, people aren’t people, they’re demographics, archetypes and personae.

Brooks continues, “Of course, data sets are important. Obviously demography matters a lot. But, at heart, politics is a personal enterprise. Voters are looking for quality of leadership, character, vision and solidarity that defies quantification.”

I think the same can be said for advertising. Of course we can define corn flakes so that they appeal to the widest possible swath of “Cold-Breakfast Enthusiasts.” But what will win for the brand is not demography, but character. Something real, warm and funny.

The issue in advertising is that it’s always been populated by people—usually people who can’t do creative—who attempt to sciencify persuasion. They tried this most notably during the hey-day of Direct Marketing, when every design and copy decision was ruled by an if-then proposition.

I sat in many of these meetings and would often argue, if it’s such a science, why does anyone fail?

I suppose there’s a bit of Medieval alchemist in all of us. We want to believe we have the formula for turning lead into gold.

Some people believe data will do the trick.

Some people believe good creative will.

I put my bet on creative. I’ve seen creative work. I can’t say the same for science.

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