by Colin Jowell

I used to worry about what the future of “Big Data” driven marketing might bring. My fear was what I termed “the rabbit warren of your first decision”. Say your first purchase in iTunes was Coldplay.

And from that you had a suggestion to buy the new album by Keane.

You give it a listen and choose it, and so another suggestion is made… Ultimately you don’t experience what everyone else experiences - you only see and hear things that are an output of algorithms of your past decisions.

It seemed as if we were heading to a more lonely world, where the joy of collective experience - the water cooler the next day after a big show was on television, all replaced by a highly efficient though deeply unspontaneous marketing system. A future like this scene from Pixar’s Wall-e seemed inevitable.
Recently though, I’ve noticed a new turn of phrase cropping up: “won the internet”. It’s what we used to call “going viral”. But the change of language is an important one. “Going Viral” infers being unseen, hidden and underground. “Won the internet” acknowledges the new truth - that the internet is now the ultimate channel to meet a mass audience.  And sometimes, it’s just as untargeted and unscientific as it has ever been.

A recent winner of the internet was this advert from Volvo. In spite of the ultimate in uncool soundtracks (Enya!) this visual spectacle has reached over 53 million views. Remember the promise of the internet was targeted marketing, less wastage, more accountability than TV or other “traditional media?” Given that this is an advert for trucks, and the direct market is purchasers of trucks, that’s a fair degree of wasted eyeballs. Just because the media cost was free does not mean it wasn’t wastage. It used to be that wastage was purely calculated in terms of the media spend budget, but in a world where media can be free, and production cost is the price you sometimes pay to make people wiling to pass on your message, how we calculate wastage on marketing spend should probably change.

Or maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about the mathematics of wastage? After all, any wastage model can be adapted to suit your desired outcome. If the objective is moved from “truck sales” to “Volvo brand reappraisal”, then the job has been well done indeed. It’s a great piece of advertising, outstanding product demonstration, beautifully crafted and a point well made. But what I love most is the fact that it highlights the fact that big ideas still resonate and resonate universally. Small ideas based on data points will grow in importance, but the implication that it will be at the expense of big ideas is simply untrue.

My fear of us being lonely individuals living out our solo data-driven experiences in front of our devices may have been unfounded after all. Because for all our number crunching and technological advances, we’re still spectators at the circus, where life’s experiences are made all the more meaningful by being able to look at one another and say “Wow, did you see that?”.

Things to think about:

  • Are you discounting big ideas that might be great for your business because your metrics of success are too narrow?
  • Are you moving away from having something big and meaningful to say about your brand because you believe it’s “all in the data”.