The Motion Agency

All Hail the New King: Data


A couple weeks back, Publicis Groupe, a global marketing and communications leader housing big-name agencies such as Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi, announced they had purchased Epsilon to capitalize on the firm’s expertise in collecting and managing first-party data for target-marketing consumers.

While I’ve felt the shift for a while, there it was in a headline: the currency of advertising is no longer creative, rather, it’s data.

As a marketing professional, I’ve always been drawn to the rule-breaking creative of 1960’s advertising – a time when an agency branded its client’s product “Ugly,” the contrarian slogan of “Uncola” competed successfully, and a single commercial cemented the outcome of a presidential election. There was recognition that creative had the power to attract consumer attention, garner interest and build a brand. We’re not talking wacky-for-its-own-sake ideas, but clever, insightful and wonderfully appealing creative, bringing brand names to life and generating enormous buzz.

 

Belief in the power of creative has waned, perhaps as an admission that it can be a fickle art or that the perceived risk drives too many instead to the comfort of reciting product features. Maybe the hierarchy of today’s organizations keeps the best creative minds and supporters at too great of lengths to make an impact. Nevertheless, our industry has turned its focus to data.

While I’ve felt the shift for a while, there it was in a headline: the currency of advertising is no longer creative, rather, it’s data.

(Now, don’t think of my view as the lament of some Luddite; data, under its alias of “insights,” is what powers paramount creative.) But here’s my basic problem: No matter how much “first-party” information data provides, no matter the precision with which this data allows consumer targeting, no matter the level of knowledge gleaned about purchase behavior, consumers are never—and likely will never be—exposed to the actual data. Nay. They see what we marketers label as ‘creative.’ Marketers need to use data (we must understand it, learn from it, use it when developing strategy, etc.) without abandoning the idea that it is ultimately creative ideas that power communications.

I’m sorry that agencies must bow to the demands of Wall Street for “survival.” (Every bit the reason for agencies to remain independent). Because, while the lords of quarterly earnings genuflect before data, joining their ranks is NOT how communications firms will best succeed.