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'What's It It for Me?'
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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"What we've got here is a failure to communicate."
-Cool Hand Luke

Can appeal, relevance, and two-way communication survive in the world of Big Data? That is the question many high-profile AdLand professionals are tackling today. The question is an interesting one, for one would imagine that the relationship should be a symbiotic one; relevance should improve big data marketing and vice versa. It should be the perfect storm. The new golden age of marketing communication.

Why isn't that the case?

The opponents of big data in AdLand believe that the brands and marketers for it are hiding behind the data as an excuse for the increasingly poor attempts at creative campaigns. Why be creative and draw consumers in when data can be used to research consumer habits and, through predictive modeling, place ads and information where they are bound to see it, whether they like it or not?

Boom, creativity problem solved. Right?

Not quite. On the other side, the big data advocates believe that using big data can help brands and advertising by cutting through the clutter. Good creative is just commercial art if it is never seen. A creative campaign is just as bad as an awful idea if the consumer doesn't see it. Using big data can help bring the two together. 

Clutter problem solved.

Again, not quite. See, in a perfect world, AdLand would employ the tools at their highest capacity, using the best creativity and the best data to create the most relevant and eye-drawing campaigns, to the most applicable audiences. Unfortunately, a perfect world is the same as the all-informed consumer — neither exist.

That's why we have advertising greats like John Hegarty of BBH speaking out quite bluntly about his distaste for big data, for he sees it more as an interruption and less as an engagement tool. 

Anytime a consumer approaches a decision, they ask the question, "What's in it for me?" Advertising must be able to provide an answer. The issue we have in front of us, then, is which method best answers that question — big data or creativity? Does knowing a consumer's every move really help us answer the question? Does not caring what the consumer does but making them think about a concept in an interesting way make for a better chance of dialogue?

We are of the opinion that data can have its place in the advertising world. But we cannot sacrifice creativity for "data stalking." Instead of trying to figure out what the consumer may be thinking or doing next, let's spend our energy and time giving them something to think about.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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