Less instinct, more accountability; less mystery, more transparency; less art, more science.
Welcome to the new world of advertising.
It might even be inaccurate to call it advertising. Industry legend and CEO of conglomerate WPP Group, Sir Martin Sorrell, recently generated considerable buzz by saying that advertising is a "totally wrong description" of what his company currently does. The new objective, he stressed, is to use data to help clients identify what money to spend, and how to spend it. These actions are driven more by science than by creative instinct. Which brings forward a new thought – science first, creative second.
But what exactly does this mean? No one disputes the importance of data and analytics, but creativity has always been the foundation of advertising—it’s the core skillset that differentiates one agency from another. Are the creative types now destined to be relegated to the outskirts, inevitably to be replaced by bean counters?
Absolutely not. In fact, it could even be argued that a culture of greater transparency and responsibility will be a welcome shift. Agencies and brands that understand these changing dynamics will ultimately be able to help marketers and their data partners drive business forward in a way that benefits both the product and its audience. We’ve only scratched the surface of how data can inform creative strategies. From helping to identify appropriate markets, to measuring campaign performance in real time, to converting unique insights into actionable messaging, data remains the vital component that lets marketers answer the simple yet complex question, “How are we doing?” When enterprise marketers demand a unified view of their marketing investments across diverse media channels and partners, that’s exactly what they can get.
Think of it as creativity enabled by science. We can gain a thorough understanding of our best audience segments, draw comparisons between pre- and post-campaign behavior, and add an unprecedented level of timeliness. Think how much fun it can be to direct campaigns at targets that are cherry-picked, compared to even a few years ago, when we would broadcast a campaign out into the ether and hope it would resonate with even a tiny fraction of the audience.
New data-related technologies and capabilities enable us to reinforce brand awareness, upsell and cross-sell current customers and eliminate wasted ad impressions. We can close the loop and measure the success of every campaign by attributing actual leads, sales, and conversions that were generated by them.
Now here’s the true kicker: the fact that we can do all of this means we have to do all this. Sales and marketing by science is not a passing fad—it’s here to stay, and the changes it induces are not only permanent but far-reaching and foundational. It’s the new normal, and that’s a good thing.
It’s easy to pine for the past, but the time has come to accept that the big idea is driven by data just as much as creativity. We may need to find new kinds of mystery and allure in our profession. Let’s just make sure the science backs it up.