Front Line Dispatches From The War Between Big Data And Advertising Creativity

The phrase “Big Data” tends to send big chills shivering up the backs of almost everyone on Madison Avenue, but none more than creatives. To overcome those anxieties, data-driven marketing consultant SSA & Co. has recruited one of their own -- self-proclaimed “advertising legend” Jerry Della Femina -- to help smooth the way, and sooth some creative egos in the process. Della Femina outlines the “partnership” in a recent op-ed in the Financial Times describing the shift as “the second Golden Age of advertising.” Which begs the question: What was the first Golden Age? Based on Della Femina’s column it was the 60s era of bona fide ad legends like Bernbach and Ogilvy, which he says has been romanticized in pop culture via AMC series “Mad Men,” (a show Della Femina claims to have inspired with his 1970 book, “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor: Front Line Dispatches from the Advertising War.”



In his column, Della Femina describes a front in the ad war defined by Big Data, digital media giants, and the merger of Publicis and Omnicom.

“Now,” he writes, “that advertisements are more algorithm than ‘Mad Men,’ the television series depicting Madison Avenue in the 1960s, the merger is being interpreted as the end of the golden era of advertising. It has been seen by the news media as a move by these two ad agencies to shore up resources in order to compete with the giants of Silicon Valley.”

Della Femina seems to agree with that sentiment, suggesting, “We may soon be watching a hit TV (or Web) series dramatizing the moment when efficiency became as hip as creativity.”

We’re not sure exactly how soon the American public will be tuning into (or clicking on) some “Mad Algorithm” series, but if Matt Weiner writes it, we’ll check it out too.

Meanwhile, you can watch other installments from those wonderful folks at SSA and Della Femina.

The collaboration, SSA President David Niles says in a carefully worded press statement, “has already given us the path to create ideas and new service offerings that I am confident will do for advertising what we have been able to do for many in retail, manufacturing and professional services.  Jerry's involvement underlines the importance of creativity as together we look to new processes that reflect the new reality of the advertising landscape and embraces the role of data in informing creativity."

With copy like that, who needs algorithms.

3 comments about "Front Line Dispatches From The War Between Big Data And Advertising Creativity".
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  1. Harry Webber from Smart Communications, Inc., August 16, 2013 at 4:25 p.m.

    “Now the likes of Apple, Proctor & Gamble and Coca-Cola are going to be handled by one big company.” So says,"self-proclaimed “advertising legend” Jerry Della Femina" in the Financial Times.

    One can't help but wonder what the folks at Pepsico think of that comment. Jerry, Omnicom is a Pepsi agency. And so we see in a nutshell how clueless our industry has become to the issues that face the real world of dealing with advertising immune audiences.

    SSA paid Jerry a pot-full of loot to, "help smooth the way" among agency creatives by getting the name of the client wrong. In the damn Financial Times, no less.

    But that's not the real punch-line of this pointless ego trip. The real punch-line is that as brilliant as Jerry is, he is absolutely clueless to the real application of "Big Data" to the future of the advertising industry. An industry that will have nothing to do with what Art Directors and Copywriters now do for a living.

    The future of advertising lies in what is being called NeoAdvertising. The use of "Big Data" to determine audience interests and creativity to develop the hundreds and thousands of content applications that engage those audience issues for brands like Toyota that value audience engagement over Clio Awards.

    Mr. Niles, instead of wasting your money on Golden Age "Legends," why not spend a moment
    visiting the NeoAdvertising Evolution Workshop Group at That is where "Big Data" is being used to reinvent the practice of advertising.

    The preceding message was an example of NeoAdvertising at work.

    Harry Webber

  2. Peter Rosenwald from Consult Partners, August 16, 2013 at 5:35 p.m.

    The enormous egos of so-called 'creatives' never cease to fascinate me.

    When will they learn that the most brilliant creative message beamed to the wrong audience will do nothing more than stimulate an agency review?

    The revolution being brought about by increasing amounts of data that target individals who are most likely to purchase - data-driven marketing that we have been practicing for years - lends itself to great creative work albeit much more focussed messages than those that traditionally win prizes at Cannes even if they fail to sell the client's products.

    This doesn't mean that 'Big Data" will reinvent the practice of advertising. What it will do - is already doing - is get that brilliantly creative message into the hands and minds of the right audience.

    And the results will increasingly be measurable and accountable. That's what scares the hell out of the big egos.

  3. Alan Schulman from SapientNitro, August 19, 2013 at 3:43 p.m.

    Peter, actually what scares the hell out of creatives is that fact that algorithms don't feel, people do. And while we too want the most appropriate message to be delivered to the most engaged target at the right time, all KPIs are not created equal. Many are about upper funnel awareness, not always lean-in activation - particularly when you're launching a new brand or SKU. So one approach doesn't always serve either the medium or the message. When we get so caught up in SAS tech models and serving platforms that we start putting the plumbing in front of the poetry - then we've fundamentally forgotten that we all are still in the IDEA business - and we start treating the medium (channel) as the message instead of the message as the message. We aren't in the inventory business, we're in the Ideas business - and it's plain to see what automated planning and buying has done to CPMs in the display business. Ideally, the widest pool of creative carefully targeted at the right audience(s) is what we all strive for, but to date, the scalability of that level of copywriting and versioning is neither emotive nor enduring. We aren't scared of Big Data or technology - on the contrary - we love creating dynamic data visualization tools, dashboards and tools for both CMO and CTO. We now even staff creative technologists to bring both interactivity and a level of creative reward to users who spend time interacting with our messages. It wasn't we who unbundled the media departments into giant behemoths that can no longer fit into our buildings, it was a play all about scale. And when scale becomes more important than skill, as it seems to be to our Silicon Valley friends/foes, then we will have been seduced more by the possibilities of automation and efficiency than what moves people to buy. And we should ask ourselves, are we being distracted by the wrong things? Maybe we should get back to being in the ideas business first, and worry about how they scale and serve form there.

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