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#adtechANZ: Emotional Intelligence: Balancing Data and Creativity

Next up here at #adtechANZ is Ben Cooper, Group Innovation Director at M&C Saatchi.

Ben believes we’re at an intersection right now where BIG DATA has been a buzzword for a couple of years. Everything is moving towards this quantified self, where we are almost predicting the future. However Ben has found that the times that he has most grown is where he has taken the road less travelled. A lot of that is due to serendipity and can’t be forethought. 

Ben Cooper AdtechANZWe’re at the end of an intelligence explosion. We are giving more of ourselves than ever. We’re tracking everything.  IBM’s Watson stores 200 millions pages of structured and unstructured content. But when it comes to human nuances, it struggles. Consider the jump from that to something like Samantha in Spike Jonze’s Her. That OS can understand if her owner is feeling down, detect changes in voice tonality and empathise with him.

We’re starting to live in a predictable world. We give so much data about ourselves, create patterns that allow systems and services to understand what you might want next. But where’s the serendipity?

Target’s data algorithm figured out that a certain combination of 25 products bought together mean that person is likely to be pregnant. A father was furious that his daughter was receiving pregnancy related coupons from Target, and complained to the store. However the store knew more than the father did, when he later found out that his daughter was indeed pregnant. Algorithms can be scarily accurate in understanding what we want or will want.

But are losing all elements of surprise? Will things like Siri and Google Now. Have we stopped being interested in unexpected opportunities? How do we break down between what is useful and what is controlling? We may be creating a world mirroring what is already done rather than finding new paths.

Consider the lack of creativity in Hollywood now as compared to just 30 years ago. Hollywood is using data modelling to plan what movies should be made, and Hollywood repeatswill be successful. This is becoming a cycle of sequels, remakes and adaptations.

Advertising has great enthusiasm for programmatic media, think retargeting and creative optimised to the nth degree. This has a short life span, it will wear out. We need to maintain the balance – as we find ourselves at an intersection of change.

Where does creativity exist when everything becomes automated and targeted? Are we in danger of stifling outcomes with predictions based on our prior interactions?

Creative use of advertising, platforms and long content by companies allows them to both harness data while also connecting with their audiences – creating something unique each time.

Ben recommends trying Vocativ – news that digs a level (or 6) deeper than any standard search available to us. They’re combining quality journalism with data focused tech to break news better and stronger. They’re using data to improve their work, rather than overrule it.

We’ll never be impressed by a well targeted banner, or a highly ranking site that is aimed at bots not humans. But we will refer friends to a remarkable film or story, encourage our followers to download an app we can’t live without or share information that’s helped us solve a problem.

Don’t let data stifle creativity. Let it empower it.

A really great thought-provoking talk from Ben – especially for us marketers that have found ourselves at the mercy of technology and data dictating our moves.



Originally from the UK via France and Malaysia, Annabel Hodges is a digital marketer with long experience in the industry now residing in Sydney. She heads up the Digital Marketing at Next Commerce, working across an array of products, channels and brands.