Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Don’t hate data, hate bad data

By Alex Hobhouse, Automated Creative

BBH founder John Hegarty was on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme recently. He said that adland’s innovation, creativity and imagination have been sidelined in favour of data, cost-cutting and simply doing what research says. As he put it, “I believe in data, but it isn’t the ‘only thing”. 

This may sound odd coming from someone whose business is built on data, but I completely agree with him. Data isn’t everything – but equally, it’s not something we should be scared of. 

All those creatives out there bemoaning the current state of our industry also need to remember that data helped create the iconic adverts they so often cite. Data helped those creatives understand what their audiences wanted to see. It’s not necessarily the bogeyman they think it is.

Not all data is good data

Back at the start of this century, the ad world began to transform. With more places to advertise, the cost associated with media and visibility increased. All of a sudden, brands ‘had to get on the internet’ while their budgets, sadly, were getting no larger.

Brands started to chip away at creative development in the race to greater exposure. More brands, more agencies, more ad space, but the same money.

With the internet then came the ability to use data to target specific segments of online users, and suddenly the shift of budget was seismic. Media buying agencies had the ability to find the ‘perfect audience’ for your ad, just as long as you made sure there was a logo on in and you showed the product in the first three seconds.

Brands started to really believe that this was the way to get more bang for their buck. Programmatic was being hoovered up in boardrooms across the world while creative agencies were squeezed. And yes, reach and frequency got better — but ads got worse. And here we are today.

It boils down to the difference between good data and bad data.

Bad data is literal and sterile. It makes lazy marketers think they understand their audience and the stuff you have to buy. Bad data doesn’t listen; it assumes.

Meanwhile, good data is informative. It’s knowledgeable but relies upon human understanding. It identifies the stuff you must create. Good data listens and responds. And with AI we can create this good data. We just need to be better at working with it.

Making data better

There are too many media agencies and tech companies sitting on the bad personal data which will allegedly ‘unlock your creative’.

That’s crap.

It’s time for creative to fight back, using automated processes that deliver and test in real time rather than in quarterly feedback loops. Then we’re creating audiences based on what they actually respond to and what they like, rather than the fact they are an ABC1 Mixed-Race Male Living In Twickenham Who Works In Shipping.

Brands should find this kind of data reassuring, as it attempts to understand their audience based on their actual preferences rather than what we’ve assumed about them.

And so to all the data-sceptics out there, don’t hate data. Hate bad data. Data helped create some of the world’s most iconic and creative advertising after all.

We need to create a better parity between media and creative. Treat the two as the feedback loop they should be. Nowadays we have the ability to generate good data and we don’t need to wait for awards and sales spikes.

It’s time to listen to the actions of our audience, rather than telling them what they should like and when. We, and our AIs, need to learn from our audience and show them what we know they want to see.