KR Op-ed: BIG DATA + BIG LOVE

Kevin Roberts - Big Data is the real deal. The muscular left brain has rolled up to the advertising altar with a diamond promise of marketing perfection. This tech-driven juggernaut heralds fantastic advances in discovering, organizing and manipulating the information deluge to achieve diverse objectives. Outcomes range from awesome to scary – the Edward Snowden N.S.A. surveillance disclosure has revealed just how powerful the data munching is.

We’re in a new era of data mining, excavating, crunching, modeling, measuring, predicting, visualizing, automating, tracking, monitoring, targeting and deciding. Every industry, every institution and every individual is impacted by Big Data. Old-world marketing, personalized healthcare, crime prevention, workforce design, risk management, fertility tracking, energy provision… it goes on. Big Data is our “De-terminator,” a machine programmed to enhance value, but with power to destroy it.

The robot has even reached Hollywood in the form of script analysis to predict hit movies, with mixed receptions. In any industry, the dream side is wont to downplay the machine side of the value equation (and vice versa), but in the future I think they are partners in the sublime. An Oscar-winning writer was recently reported to have been instructed by a producer to get a script analyzed by a data cruncher. Initially resistant, the writer said that “It was a complete shock, the best notes on a draft that I have ever received.”    

For the last 15 years, at Saatchi & Saatchi we’ve occupied the right-brain territory in the communications market. We have assiduously invested in understanding the emotional connections that drive humans, fully mapped this space, won by creating Lovemarks for clients, and watched Big Data play catch up. Now the muscular left brain has rolled up to the ad altar with its diamond promise.

I’m excited by the moment. Digital is quarterbacking the future of advertising, making it direct and relevant, personal, immediate and irresistible – and shuffling the players on the board. It’s going to be a fun ride.

Gartner says that by 2017 the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO. Data will be in the midst of everything. It’s a dream scenario for brands to find their audiences, know individuals backwards, discover what counts for them, and deliver at warp speed.  

How much of the future will be machine-driven versus meaning-driven? Everything that can be machine-driven in advertising will be – buying space, pricing, calibrating, discovering, locating, personalizing and even shaping the message. Here’s where Big Data needs Big Love, because the programs will never read humans quite the way humans do, nor will they respond to humans quite the way humans can.  

The Big Data machine can read the lines, but not well between them. It can turn up at the perfect moment, but not ignite it. It can spit out stories based on what came before, but it can’t dream the difference that builds loved brands. In the crunch, the crazies break through. Spock to Kirk: “Captain, we are checkmated.” Kirk to Spock: ‘Not Chess Mr Spock – poker. Do you know the game?’

Big Data + Big Love are an arranged marriage the future can’t do without. It’s time for the two to show respect and openness for what each can bring to the party. They need to find ways to work together, not to discount each other as they often do.  

Love can’t do without logic because it will never reach its potential. It needs to find the right road, meet the right people, pick the right moment and then throw caution to the wind. Albert Einstein: “Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”

Logic can’t do without Love because efficiency without quality is an end game. Without a surge in the moment, the nirvana of customized one-to-one real time marketing comes up short. The closer Big Data flies everyone’s optimal offer into us all, the more the distribution side gets commoditized, and the more the spark in the message becomes a priceless thing. We decide emotionally, and this won’t change. Big Data leads to conclusions. Big Love leads to action through the three elements of a Lovemark – Mystery, Sensuality, and Intimacy.

Watch as Big Data + Big Love plays out at decision points in every industry, from purchase through to performance. Thanks to Big Data we’re going to learn a lot more about ourselves. Thanks to Big Love we’ll never understand everything about ourselves. Until the data is flesh and blood, it will be the incalculable factors, the unexplainable pulses, and the mind-blowing ideas that fly the machine over the line.  

Kevin Roberts is CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi and author of Lovemarks: the Future Beyond Brands.


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