big data, Byron, Client Budgets, Communications, Creative Industries, creative purity, data sets, dead Poet's Society, Direct Report P&L Businesses, Direct Response, Dr J Evans Pritchard, Higher Consciousness, Longue Carabine, Meerkats, old school advertising, Predictive Algorithms, Qualitative Insight, Quantitative Assertion, Risk Mitigation & Carry, ROI, Sales Promotion, Shamen, Sioux Nation, Social Networks & Platforms, The Internet Of Things, Warriors
There seems to be a reoccurring and escalating schizoid condition warping the minds of Communications agencies and clients across the capital.
And it seems to be rooted in a clash that can be particularly philosophical, practical or financial in nature (or a compound of all three) at any given time.
The conflict centres on who leads the conversation in marketing and communications land – and in turn who gets to command the greatest fees for the precious lead outputs and services and the commercial kudos attached.
Should marketing and marcomms be focused on the burgeoning socially-networked and data-rich science of customer centricity?
Or should it be fuelled by a powerful fusion of intimate qualitative insight and the white heat of creative integrity?
The creative industries have long railed against the intrusion of anyone with a slide rule and a bar chart as killers of pure creativity.
Sales Promotion & its BOGOF culture. Direct response and its channel as an idea delusions. And now the Little Big Horn of Data. As far as the average big thinking creative guru and the agency culture that serves them is concerned, all of them should take their place further down the strategic Value Chain and wait to be summoned.
This view is predicated on a belief that pure creativity is some sort of higher and immutable power unanswerable to any kind of measure and the bean counting serfs and operational barrow boys who champion them.
The creative purist quietly dismisses these metric minded jobsworths in much the same way that Dr J Evans Pritchard’s belief that one can assess the greatness of a poem by compounding horizontal and vertical measures was dismissed as ‘excrement’ by Robin William’s ‘Captain’ in the film, Dead Poets Society.
At the very centre of this belief sits the Byronic myth. That of the turbulent volatile creative tempest, stumbling through boudoir bar and ballroom in search of the ‘moment’ – the thought and the prize. The one moment of brilliance that subjugates all others.
All very good. Highly commendable. And very amusing to watch (and partake in). And respectfully, regardless of the nay sayers, this model has created some of the finest commercial creative talents of the last 40 years.
The idea of a data rich, highly measurable influencer and advocate matrix of highly connected modern living – what I like to call Data-Day living – just doesn’t cut it in the world of old school creative purity and integrity seeking to rub the raw nerve of our human condition. Fire us up, provoke us, seduce us, invoke and inspire us to buy some thing or other. A world led, coded and read by people who think that ‘there is no such thing as emotion, just sentimental data’ is to most people an abomination and none more so than the average old school creative.
I just can’t picture the towering genii of Paul Arden and Dave Trott sitting in a room thumbing their graphite pencil and chewed biro while seeking illumination in the junction points between two or more sets of data tracking the correlations between broadband renewal trends in Huddersfield and the escalating retail shopping patterns of the average 35 year old on a wet Tuesday in Tyne Tees.
Real people don’t live in a powerpoint deck or a data slide!
They live through the wholly unreasonable filter or desire and emotion.
And there seems to be something so much more powerful and connective in getting out there, pulling your sleeves up and rummaging around in the ordure of the human condition to pull out a plum.
Qualitative; attractive and highly subjective and interpretive. Finding out what people care about and feel in varying contexts of need want and desire under particular influences creates a compelling and highly intimate and personable narrative.
Emotion rules this roost.
More importantly for the creative purist, in those interwoven threads of everyday humanity brilliant creative inspiration lies: the human grist to their creative mill.
The small problem comes with the advent of the Data Insurgents and their new and far more accountable model of communications propped up by some very, very disruptive creative communities out there.
On line living, mobile technology and increasingly The Internet of Things is creating a cosmic fizz of data – live: in flow, vibrant, atomic and measurable.
A sort of a ‘socio-geo-eco-tempo-political’ Matrix capable of offering up all sorts of goodies to the miners and the excavators of the data that shape it.
Suddenly amongst this mass of code and data, the algorithms and the predictive software; and in the face of the relentless austerities and under the hammer of ROI a new sensibility rises and its not slowing anytime yet.
Quantitative. Seductive. Particular. Objective and interrogative. Finding out what people actually do and react to, in multiple modes and states of action in varying contexts over varying timeframes and multiple platforms creates a financially measurable and strategically accountable narrative that is hard to ignore.
Reason rules this roost.
So the question this new sensibility raises in the face of the old and highly revered world of pure creativity is a contentious (and financially onerous) one:
Who has primacy in regards to the Brand relationship and the client budget?
The Byronic Shamen with their incendiary creative vision?
Or the Data Warriors with their fluid numerate pointillism?
To be fair, in regards to selling in the room, it’s a hell of a lot easier to hold your hand out and ask for quite a few million Great British Pounds when you’re asking for it on the data-written and statistical evidence of delivering a projected ROI of ‘bloody hell:1’.
It’s a lot harder to justify the Ask when you’re operating on a purely qualitative ‘we’re so brilliant’ ‘done it before so we can do it again’ basis which the purveyors of pure creativity tend to rely upon all too often.
By its very nature Creativity is volatile and imperfect – lacking in the more measured artisan skills of a repetitive ability to turn out exquisite and identical things’ from a fixed or varied set of materials with a clear set of costs attached to sourcing, resourcing and processing them.
Let’s be fair here, hold up our hand and admit that the ads that followed Cadbury Gorilla and Sony Balls did not do a very good job of convincing anyone other than the agency, creative, planner and client in question that you can cookie cut incendiary creative brilliance; and equally charge the same stellar rates for very unlike outputs other than the logo on the end frame.
The first pieces? Jaw dropping, audacious, mould breaking and sublime. Problem is they made the bits that followed feel like an underwhelming Christmas special from a much loved sitcom. A little bit Almost.
Pure Creativity in the commercial cut throat world of Marcomms also seems to have lost the punchy audacious attitude to shouldering and absorbing Risk as part of the process of generating moments of creative brilliance.
Many leading exponents of creativity – artists, musicians, comedians – carry the burden of risk completely.
They commit to pour out masses of material; a lot of it utter shite to be frank, before they stumble upon or reveal the creative human diamonds they then present to the world. But that is part of the joy of it.
Risk is part of the process and they are happy to carry the risk – of failure, indifference, dismissal, ridicule and ultimately ‘just not cutting it’ – and the absence of earnings or reward until brilliance is struck.
This is the cost of generating pure creativity – massive risk. But it is personally shouldered.
Whereas creative agencies seem to be highly risk averse. They wish the risk to be carried elsewhere. They want the applause, accolades and the fame of course. Oh and Saatchi (Charles Not Maurice) scale rewards.
This is not to say that the data junkies are all good and wondrous and brilliant. Some of them confect any kind of algorithmic twaddle and stick it in a room.
Ooohh. There are numbers. And look they have patterns in them. And they get bigger.
There is as much sophistry at work in the data driven side of customer centric marketing as there is in the creative communications world.
(I am allowed to say this as I have spent 30 years in one condition and spend increasing amounts of time embracing the other.)
Yes, they can (and do) try to lose or disguise real risk in impenetrable matrices of data and assumption: BUT it’s hard to spoof it when confronted with a greater reasoning mind or in the face of data comprehension which many clients do possess
So regardless of the pros and cons and a lot of wriggling, the condition of conflict between the two firmly exists.
But when I look at the two types I am confused as to why in an increasingly enlightened communications world they are still clashing – it can only be rooted in the basic human condition of primacy and filthy lucre.
Because to slip into my Sioux Nation meets Longue Carabine* metaphor – the data warriors and the creative shamen may be very different creatures doing very different jobs but stitched together with insight and vision their fusion represents the greatest point of resilience in any brand and business marketer’s armoury.
For me, the data warriors are the hunting parties – the scouts and the trackers.
A dust swirl. Three blades crushed. One twig broken. Small pile of lightly steamed stool. Two disturbed rocks in the stream. They went that-a-way: One a shuffling Septuagenarian carrying a limp and a predilection for 4pm snacking and the other a Millennial with a fetish for on-line pharmaceuticals.
Lithe, agile, resilient – valve open – the data warriors are connected to the very essence – the very particular material and atomic nature – of the world they travel through. Precious information bleeds from every direction – out of the earth wind and fire beneath, before and around them.
They are living inside the fabric of their world – stitched into its living breathing self.
The Creative Shamen on the other hand can be found floating merrily a few miles above it. Squatting in an animal-hide hut filled with peyote fumes curling thickly around them, smoking rocks, and waiting for the arrival of the Great White Buffalo.
They are seeking and yearning a higher consciousness – a moment of divine revelation; a connection so real and of such jaw-dropping intensity and clarity that it compels everyone and everything in its presence to turn to it and drop to their knees in subjugation.
(Not quite sure how this gets us to a Meerkat script with Arnie in it but bear with me.)
Now, both groups I am sure could claim Primacy in the tribe and with fair reason.
The White Buffalo seeking Shamen educates the scouts, trackers and warriors in the ways of divine connection – seeing the higher power of things as the unifying and immutable truth – the great creative spirit at work in the world. Without them and this higher order perspective operating as a compass and north star, wise people know that civilisations and cultures lose their way, flounder, decay and diminish; they become weaker disconnected and vulnerable. They lose the ability to survive and prevail.The shamen are the highest Order and therefore could claim Primacy.
The evidentially and materially driven Warrior and tracker conversely give living authenticity, meaning and substance to the abstract notions of the shamen and the Great Spirit. Utilizing these spiritual and material tools of navigation and connectedness they seek out new lands of potential and plenty; they hunt the food that sustains the tribe; they outwit insurgent and hostile tribes that would otherwise destroy the culture and very existence of their own tribe. They are the front-line source of exceptional resilience and therefore could claim Primacy.
Basically, once the spear throwing and name calling is over, and whether these two groups like it or not, they need each other.
Squabble – fine. Fight. Probably. Bitch about the size of the pickings each deserves and should get? Of course.
Ultimately though, neither group should be so foolish, singular, arrogant and self interested as to think that either of them could survive without the other.
In a world of conflicted interest, the only piece of illumination we need should be focused on is the simple fact that their particular best relies solely on finely calibrated interdependencies existing between both parties.
A global network agency that I used to be part of defined itself by the mantra of ‘the unreasonable power of creativity’: predicated on the higher order belief that
Reason leads to conclusions but Emotion leads to action. And therefore Creativity that makes people disproportionately feel something that a data set cannot is the way to go.
Love it. Couldn’t agree more.
BUT. Proof also has it that what people respond to emotionally at a higher order level is not necessarily the greatest definer or indicator of how people will act in the moment in the everyday in a transactional need and demand context – as the data-day junkies are all to quick to point out.
There are graveyards of astonishing creativity – pieces of creativity so compelling and shareable they are capable of raising 26 million views on youtube – but sadly incapable of driving up swap out and retention rates to drive the numbers to build the volume margins and increased revenue to produce the uplifted budget investment to pay for more genius.
But if the creative shamen and the data warriors can figure out how to nurture enough respect for each other to not subsequently waste 40% of their client’s time trying to decide who gets to run the meeting and steal wooden dollars from each other, that would be good (and believe you me the clients really do notice how much of this is going on).
Is this an issue of incentive and performance criteria and measurement? Of course.
Too many Communications groups carry both types in their client service suite without resetting their rules of engagement.
The logic of maintaining Customer centric data-driven companies and Pure creative idea generation businesses rewarded inside a fiercely competitive direct report silo P&L structure makes no sense in the long term. It certainly does not best serve the client.
They waste time, energy and resource on internal market battles and jostling for pre-eminence that could be better served in the clients interest to build some real life-time value in the relationship.
The networks that own both kinds of business would better served elevating Customer (Client) satisfaction, not agency ego and return as their point of Primacy.
Apart from that who’s up for some peyote and long weekend in a buffalo hide hut?
*Longue Carabine is the character in the book and film Last Of The Mohecans also known as Hawkeye. An astonishing, inspirational and resilient warrior with some pretty awesome ethics to boot.