Dispatches for the Media War Zone

by Tyler Greer, Director of Global Sales Strategy Exponential

If you’ve ever wondered what the war between man and machines might look like – and which side, you’ll back – you probably need cast your eye no further than the conflict being played out in media and advertising. Both slightly banal and terribly interesting, the wrestle is manned by the rise and rise of data on one side and the imagination-fuelled human mind on the other.  It’s frequently described as the mad Men vs the Maths Men and, like all conflicts, it’s an absurdity.

Unlikely Allies

Data and people are not in conflict. In fact, they share much in common. Both need to be housed, both need security, and both can and must be put to meaningful work. And there’s something else: each can help us understand the other. People, through insight and exploration, can help us understand data, and data in turn can help us understand people.

To frame it with more relevance, data can make the human creative output sharper and creative human imagination can breathe life and stories into data. Our industry’s binary view of these great assets is ushering in an era of missed opportunity and inter-disciplinary warfare.

Perhaps, like so many conflicts, this one is merely cyclical. Right now, the Mad men are in the ascent. The rise and rise of data is the story of the decade. As it intersects with the technologies available to media players, it has profoundly changed the ways in which we plan campaigns, understand audiences, connect through channels, and review the successes of marketing.

A New Creative Team

The importance of data is evident at a marketing team level, whose composition has changed to include science-fictiony titles like Chief Data Officers and Chief Technology Officers. He who controls the data controls the universe, and it is frequently coming at the cost of the industry’s creative CCC.

Late in 2016, The Economist interviewed 4,000 CMOs and arrived at the conclusion that creative is “a legacy skill and no longer a focus of demand”. It was trumped by other considerations including digital technology and engagement, customer acquisition and branding and advertising. Noble pursuits, all. But it’s hard to imagine how any of these goals will be met without a strong creative element to bind it all together.

Bridging The Data Gap

At some point we decided that identifying and isolating precisely the right customer based on accumulated data was more important than the message we serve up to them. What a silly way to look at a business whose job it is to persuade.

The creative world bears its own blame, many of whose population have been slow to recognise the huge value on offer to them by interrogating audience data. The better the understanding of an audience, the most pointed and relevant the creative story can be.

We have recently conducted a deep dive study exploring the audience behaviours associated with a weight loss brand. This brand had hitherto operated on the assumption that ‘all women want to lose weight all the time’. Possibly true; hard to build a compelling story around. A dive into the data demonstrated two distinct behaviours prior to signing up as expressed by the kinds of content being read about – wedding planning and beach holidays.

From here, the brand can make substantial shifts in their brand voice, their media planning, their sponsorships and, most importantly, their creative. Knowledge is power, and data offers creatives the power of more relevant messaging in more appropriate places.

The so-called battle between the art and science of media and advertising should be no such thing at all. It is incumbent on both sides to embrace the benefits which creative storytelling can bring to data, and the potential for insight and audience understanding that data can fuel the creative process with. It’s an opportunity too good to waste.