The Pitfalls of Data and How Trouble is Critical to Agency Success

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“If we all think alike then no one is thinking.” – Benjamin Franklin

I think we all know that if you ask a room of people to agree on one choice of ice cream you’ll get vanilla as the answer. It’s this type of compromise that our industry is falling prey to in the world of big data, ‘accepted wisdoms’ and nouveau-marketing dogma.

The desperate desire to be ‘for everyone’ isn’t necessarily wrong (penetration equals growth, right Byron Sharp?) but the fault lies in optimising creative towards the middle and away from what makes a brand unique and interesting. Brands themselves have paved the way for the likes of Amazon and Alibaba. Without any real differentiation, and any value-add beyond the actual product itself, how could we expect anyone to go through the trouble of not ordering what they need through the comforts of Amazon Prime? Branding is being reduced to an SEO practice, and with voice-guided interfaces and zero-click ordering we fulfil it before we even have time to consider choice.

How do we combat this samification? Let’s take a lesson from the jungle.

In 1979, Francis Ford Coppola heads into the madness that is the Philippine jungle to shoot the iconic masterpiece, Apocalypse Now. His set blew away in a storm, his leading man Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack and Marlon Brando turned up overweight and underprepared. In the face of all this trouble, and much more, he said this: “When you’re in trouble, keep going. Do a 180-degree turn. Turn the situation half way round. Don’t look for the secure solution, don’t pull back from the passion, turn it on full force.” And that’s exactly what he did, his sheer force of will and ambition turned a potential disaster into one of the greatest triumphs of cinematic and creative history.

Because it’s in the quest for great ideas – born out of true understanding and empathy – that the battle will be won.

It’s that desire to embrace those moments of trouble, the desire to look at things differently and turn it on full force that inspired not only our agency’s name but also how we work. And today, more than ever, I see that spirit and ambition as critical, in an industry where we too often optimise ourselves into mediocrity. Embracing trouble means having a point of view that’s not necessarily loved by all. Embracing trouble means being prepared to ignore the numbers when necessary, because an algorithm doesn’t help us to what’s next, it tells us what worked last time.

When the ambition for building famous brands is based on a six second rule, then it’s time to call bullshit. We all know that the great brands we admire, choose and even love sometimes (I know love for brands is not a hot thing at the moment, but occasionally there are brands we do hold in that regard; for example, I’m Swedish and I rather love Ikea), were not built, nor our emotions stirred or our deep preferences developed, on meeting the criteria set out by a Silicon Valley techbro who is rewarded by armies of bots falsifying viewability and engagement rates.

When the modern snakeoil salesmen tell us which digital ad formats are most effective and, in response, we limit our creative ideas to ten A and B tested images on a carousel, we are lining their pockets, not building brands. They tell us what data we need to create a ‘hyper-personalised’ experience and in response, we hire an entire analytics team overnight to make some sense of it all. We are so keen to appease these ‘rules’ we’ve forgotten that without a great idea to grab our attention, capture our imagination or make us stop and think, everything else is meaningless.

Because it’s in the quest for great ideas – born out of true understanding and empathy – that the battle will be won.

Now is the time to NOT choose vanilla, but to make some trouble instead.

Recent epic failures and corruption in surveillance mar-tech have, I hope, become a moment of clarity. I see it in the way P&G and Unilever are re-evaluating their approaches to digital and the call to focus on creative resource over management layers. There is finally a realisation that we have this opportunity and we have to stop filling it with all this crap.

I feel the tide is turning. It’s time to turn the situation around. To not look for the secure solution. To not pull back from the passion. To see the world not as it is, but how it could be.

Now is the time to NOT choose vanilla, but to make some trouble instead.

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1 Comment
  1. I Agree!
    But we have been trained too long to believe that we Must belong to some kind of the “pack”. Even the ‘rebels’ have approved rebel appearance and must turn up in biker jackets, ripped jeans and spiked hair.
    Western marketing culture has been grooming to crave not just the predictable, but safe “original” concepts.
    Promise of Safety and Convenient choices has permeated most of the industries.
    I love the example of “Apocalyps Now” but this was created in different time when consumers didn’t demand “safe spaces” and didn’t look for a promise of “micro aggression” to complain about…
    True inspiring creativity takes risks and suggests them – and that is one thing that has been consistently bred out of us to make us into more docile consumers.

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