My take on... Big data killing big ideas

David Prior's picture
by David Prior

'My take on' is designed to be a platform for an honest perspective on a relevant issue or subject. To put forward a candidate to give their take on an issue, please email

This week David Campbell, Executive Creative Director at SLG, gives his take on the idea that big data is killing big ideas.

The cars we drive, the computers we work with, the smart devices glued to our hands – machines and technology are at the centre of every part of our lives. Behind it all is an incalculable number of complex algorithms making it all happen.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see the appeal of programmatic media buying in the advertising industry. It’s a quicker, easier and predictable way to reach the right type of people at the right time. In theory, we put big data in and get the best results out. Not once, not twice, but time and time again.

dc1So it almost makes sense that we use data and formulas to determine the ways we sell big brands on a mass scale. But only ‘almost’, because it’s also the quickest way to kill the the very thing that can have the greatest impact of all – the big idea.

Yes, we might default to our digital devices and their meticulously programmed algorithms to make everyday life seamlessly joined up. But applying this same logic to the job of capturing people’s minds, hearts and imaginations – changing their perceptions, habits and beliefs – is dangerously small-minded.

If the smartest thing is to rely on formulas to serve automated ads off the back of big data, then why do people see the same ads for products they’ve probably already bought or services they no longer need? And why are they missing out on seeing something new they might actually be interested in?
And why is my Facebook page littered with a parade of protein powder ads? I don’t even workout.

Creatives use their heads and hearts to nurture ideas. And when those ideas connect with people on a deeply emotional level, it’s transformational. It’s the sort of magic that takes ideas beyond advertising and which can only happen when the right minds are in the same room working together to make a great idea brilliant. That means having media planners – not machines – bring their experience, intellect and human instinct to the table. To bring ideas.

As an industry, are we really happy to let machine-made mediocrity take the place of real powerful, real meaningful, real infectious ideas?

My take on... White labellingBecause that’s where we’re headed.

It’s time we invite our media partners back into the creative fold where big thinking, true passion and strategic thinking come together to support, build on and grow ideas – rather than feed them into a machine to serve up advertising fodder destined for a swift and brutal death.

In Ogilvy’s words: “A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself."

So let’s stop the systematic destruction of the bravery, curiosity, and intellect that makes an idea bigger than an ad. And let’s start trusting minds and hearts to do the job of inspiring people again.

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