Spooner Creative

The Lovin’ Spoonful 11

Sir John Hegarty appears to think data is not the answer. Now what was the question?

Spooner Creative

Imagine the devastating lack of surprise I felt when the lithe, handsome editor of this august organ pointed out what dear, dear, sweet, old Sir John Hegarty had to say on the subject of data.

Speaking at Advertising Week, Hegarty told Campaign magazine: “I would actually argue that data has never created wealth, never. Creativity has, all the time. Because it imagines something. And people go, ‘I like that. I respond to that.’

“But data in itself creates nothing. It’s creativity which makes things. We’ve got to remember that. If you’re an organisation trying to increase your profitability, or expand your market, data is very important. But it’s creativity that will make that happen.”

Now you may expect me to launch into a savage and eloquently discursive refutation of the elegant, silver-haired adman’s assertions.

But I won’t.

Because the quite-understandably-ennobled BBH legend has a point.

Data in and of itself has never achieved anything. It is inert. It does nothing.

What Mr Hegarty is failing to recognize is the power that it gives to creative people.

I’ve never bought in to the old canard that ATL is superior to BTL advertising. In fact, I’ve made a reasonable (if unspectacularly remunerated) career out of my admiration for great ATL work that can work equally well below-the-line. It’s all a matter of channels really and is not only a canard but furthermore a red herring. I certainly, have never felt inferior to my ATL colleagues just because I occasionally make ‘Shit That Folds’.

And The lily-white fingers of our most patrician ATL practitioner must have riffled through thousands of creative briefs in their time. Surely every single one was made up of a combination of data and insight? Surely every one relied on the data generated by either ‘qual’ or ‘quant’ commissioned by his esteemed clients? And surely that data will have been analysed by his planners and extrapolated from - in order to create the propositions from which he has long worked? If not I’m at a bit of a loss as to how he came up with a trouserless Nick Kamen etc etc etc.

And his expression of aristocratic disdain for data is entirely justifiable if that data merely exists. It is only when data is interpreted that it can be acted upon creatively in order to ‘create wealth’.   At this point, in a sneaky American Lawyer kind of way let me point you at one of the great man’s published works. Hegarty on Advertising: Turning Intelligence Into Magic. (Thames & Hudson 2011). 

Well, ‘turning intelligence into magic’ is surely an accurate description of the way in which creative people use the data he seems to disparage in the world of direct mail, ECRM, SEO, on-line display, SMS, TV, DRTV, radio, BRTV, Content, PPC, 96 sheet posters, You Tube channels, shelf-wobblers, bus-sides, tube-cards, cinema ads, cereal-packet-backs, in fact, every last conceivable channel that we grubby-fingered or lilywhite BTL & ATL creatives have ever and will ever lose our tempers over.

What is more, I now begin to see that the lithe, handsome editor of this esteemed organ has cunningly led me up the garden path yet again.

For, after all, what Sir John is really saying, it seems to me, is that he, Sir John, is very worried that his clients are being encouraged to spend large percentages of their marketing budgets on data instead of TV advertising. And if you replace the word ‘TV’ with the word ‘integrated’ in the previous sentence it might worry me too.

But, in fact, Sir John may be being a little short-sighted.

For if the briefs that Sir John’s creatives receive in the future are informed by accurate data that describes in detail the relationships (transactional, attitudinal, lifetime, propensity to purchase, antipathy etc etc etc) that his customers and potential customers have with the brands that BBH advertises, then surely his work removing the trousers of handsome male models to the delight of the trouser-wearing public will be accomplished all the more magically? 

So, honoured editor, in a shock response to Mr Hegarty’s waspish outburst I am going to agree with our favourite knight. 

No! Data is not the answer!

It is, however, a singularly crucial aspect of the question.