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Data overload; Hong Kong phooey; and naughty luvvies

16 Sep 2019  |  Dominic Mills 
Data overload; Hong Kong phooey; and naughty luvvies

The more data marketers have the less confident they are, learns Dominic Mills. Plus: a controversial ad from Hong Kong, and the actors who bite the hand that feeds

You are no doubt familiar with that old joke about the statistician who drowned in water that was six inches deep (on average). There is probably an equivalent for marketing data scientists, except that the unit of measurement is terabytes.

Yet that is exactly how marketers are increasingly feeling, according to a recent study by Kantar Insights US/Millward Brown. There’s one caveat, which is that the study is of North and Latin American marketers, agencies and media owners; nevertheless, I suspect the feelings expressed are broadly universal and apply equally to the UK and Europe.

Broadly speaking, you can summarise the findings as this: the more data they have, the less confident they are, the more they feel they are drowning.

We have long been told that data is the new oil, gold, titanium (supply your own essential commodity here), and that its very infinite nature was intrinsic to its value. But not to judge by this study. Almost half (47% to be precise) of marketers are “not very/at all confident” about their ability to create insights from the data they have.

And if you isolate it by those who feel “not at all confident”, the direction of travel is negative. In 2016 only 10% were “not at all confident”; by 2019 this had risen to 19%.

It’s worth noting that, according to Kantar, the figure is higher among North American marketers. One reason, Kantar posits, is that this is because they have much more data. Yet, paradoxically, fewer than 10% say they have all the data they need. Hmm. Confusing or not? The suggestion then is that they have the wrong data, or perhaps that it exists in multiple silos, meaning they fear they only get partial or half-truths.

This lack of confidence feeds through to marketing actions. A third (32%) of marketers lack confidence in their targeting and the same number in their organisation’s ability to understand the relationship between context and execution.

Almost 60% lack any confidence in their frequency strategies (which any consumer could tell them they are getting wrong). Over half (51%) are “not very/at all confident” they have the right balance between long- and short-term marketing activities (i.e. brand-building/performance respectively), and consequently on their media choices. In particular, 46% lack the confidence they have the mix of online and offline correct.

And yet none of this seems to have any impact on the way they chop up their media budgets, with 84% of marketers saying they expect to allocate “an extraordinary increase” to online video, 70% to social and 54% to advanced TV.

As an aside, one aspect of marketing life this report throws up is the difference between the way marketers view the world and the perspective of agencies and media owners. While marketers are nagged by self-doubt, agencies and media owners are in every respect more confident of their knowledge and abilities.

I suspect this is the natural state of affairs. Agencies are obliged to be optimistic, even if they don’t feel it deep down, and media owners look at the world primarily through their own lens, which is by definition narrower. And there’s one other difference: it ain’t their money or careers directly on the line.

Hong Kong cant

The dictionary defines cant as form of hypocritical or sanctimonious discourse typically of a moral, religious or political nature.

That seems an appropriate word to describe this ad I saw from the Hong Kong government in a European edition of the New York Times last week.

It’s part of a new campaign, including ads in the financial press, designed to calm overseas business and investors after months of unrest and, weekly on our TV screens, shocking scenes of violence. The ads may have appeared in the UK press too, but if they have I’ve missed them.

“We remain a safe, open, welcoming and cosmopolitan society and an internationally connected, vibrant and dynamic economy,” says one sentence (over-stuffed with adjectives, IMHO).

We’re used to seeing this type of ad from big corporates — think Tesco and horse meat — when they’ve made a giant boo-boo. But they’re apologies.

This contains not a hint of apology. Indeed, it is almost defiant in its tone. Indeed, it implicitly warns outsiders to stay clear. “What you just one piece of a complex social, economic and political jigsaw puzzle. It is a puzzle we will solve on our own.”

A jigsaw puzzle? Come on. And try telling corporates that Hong Kong is “open, welcoming etc” when they are mindful that the CEO of Cathay Pacific was tossed overboard as some kind of sacrifice for some unspecified offence.

Meanwhile, as the Hong Kong government shows one face to big business, the official Chinese press agency is busy getting down and dirty with a series of smear ads on social media. Click on the link at the top of the third paragraph to see more detail.

Much as I hate to say it though, the Hong Kong government ad is not a bad example of the copywriter’s craft. The copy is clear, makes its points simply, and takes readers through from start to finish. That is as long as you can hold your nose, ignore the cant and what the ad doesn’t say. It also shows that newsbrands remain the pre-eminent channel for a certain type of ad message.

I wonder how the writer felt when they had finished. I imagine they felt the need to purge themselves of all filth and (see story below), take a long, hot bath.

Supercilious luvvies

Don’t you just love those actors — the ‘talent’ — who are sniffy about their advertising work but happy to take the money anyway.

There was a prime example on the Jonathan Ross Show last weekend. The actor was talking about his failed audition for a Tango ad. “I’m glad I didn’t get it,” he said. “It would have taken something away from my soul. I needed a bath afterwards.”

Hmm. This was Martin Freeman (The Office, Sherlock Holmes, The Hobbit etc). Yes, that’s the same Martin Freeman putting in a series of magnificently wooden performances for Vodafone recently. You can see him here in one. I wonder what kind of bath he had after that. Acid, I think. I wish Ross had asked him about that.

The late Alan Cluer, a celebrity fixer responsible for securing actors for many of the most famous ads between the 80s and 2010 — a shadowy figure who conducted his business well away from the spotlight — once told me the secret of his success: knowing every last shred of gossip about celeb X or Y. If they were getting divorced, had made a dodgy investment or pursued an expensive lifestyle, they were grist to his mill.

And that’s how it works. But there’s no need for them to turn on their paymasters.

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DavidPidgeon, editor, Mediatel on 16 Sep 2019
“Thanks, Richard - we've made that joke a bit clearer on Dominic's behalf!”
RICHARDBEDWELL, Consultant, RBA on 16 Sep 2019
“I think the correct quote is that the water was six inches deep on average. That's what makes it amusing.
I also think that marketeers are not only more confused by more data they are also more mindful that there is more than one line of strategic logic that emanates from a large dataset and therefore there is greater likelihood of them choosing the wrong one and having that mistake proven to have been false by exactly the same set of numbers. The fear of getting it wrong increases with the amount of data on which you are basing your decision.”


27 May 2020 

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