26 Apr Even Mad Men Need Data
In case you’ve missed it, Mad Men has recently been added to UK Netflix. The show follows the exploits of a New York advertising agency as it moves from the late 1950s through the 60s. Everybody seems to have a drinks cabinet in their office and whisky is a perfectly acceptable beverage to consume at 10 am. Obviously working in a marketing agency in Oxford in 2017 is very different from a New York agency 50 years ago. At h2o for example, you will be pleased to know that we are caffeine-fuelled rather than alcohol-inspired.
One scene, in particular, has inspired this blog about data in the creative process.
Early in season 2 (yes I’ve finished season 1 again already, don’t judge me.) There is a meeting to create an advertising campaign for ‘Mohawk Airlines.’ What struck me was how little research or data went into the creative process. One character chips in with, “A lot of people don’t like turbulence,” — hardly revolutionary or particularly useful unless you’ve created an aircraft immune to changes in air pressure.
Don Draper, the mysterious, chain-smoking, hard-drinking, womanising anti-hero rejects all ideas from his team before beginning a monologue about what the message needs to be — adventure and freedom in this case. This is a recurring theme in the series: Don seemingly plucks a sentimental, original take on the product that inevitably leads to a wildly successful campaign. This shows the brand dictating its image to the consumer and deciding what they are going to think.
I am acutely aware that:
1. This is fiction
2. It is set in the past.
I know it wouldn’t be the same if we saw the number crunching, trend monitoring, Twitter analytics that constitutes part of the creative process today. However, given the technological advances that have taken place over the past couple of years, in particular, social media, brands cannot dictate their image to their consumers anymore.
Consumers co-own a brand’s image and can tear down a brand’s carefully constructed identity with one tweet, Facebook post, or video as United Airlines discovered over the last few weeks. The video of the passenger being ‘re-accommodated’ and the following corporate-speak quasi-apology is alleged to have wiped a seven-figure sum from the value of the airline. Not something that Mr Draper ever had to deal with.
This isn’t to say that data can dictate a marketing campaign entirely. Pepsi’s recent Kendall Jenner disaster felt like an advert that was created based on current trends and analytics, protests, Kardashians and police. Job done. The totally justified horrified reaction to this advert shows that there needs to be a human, emotional element to advertising.
Analytics can tell you what people are discussing, but these trends need to be carefully weaved into a campaign that will connect and resonate with the consumer in the correct way. Not roughly jammed together á la Pepsi.
It’s fair to say that if brands respond only to analytics, trends and holding up a mirror to society, nothing new or original will ever be created (the argument about whether it’s possible to create anything totally original needs to be saved for another time).
For this reason, brands and agencies that do successfully come up with something truly innovative and original should be applauded e.g. Cadbury’s drumming gorilla. Being truly groundbreaking is risky, and difficult as it’s a step into the unknown. This ‘unknown’ is becoming increasingly smaller and more extreme due to the fact we’re in an age when the average consumer is becoming increasingly jaded and cynical. They are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages a day, more than ever before in human history. This means that brands in search of this innovative originality are being forced to more niche and extreme measures for attention. All Don Draper had to do was spin a narrative and look moodily into the middle distance.
Obviously success cannot be guaranteed, despite the most in-depth market research or the most creative thinking; there are a myriad of other factors that can mean success or failure for a campaign — in the Mad Men episode a plane crash occurred when they were launching the advert for example.)
Creating content is only half the battle for the modern marketer. You also have to ensure that it’s distributed across the platforms that you planned for to hit the segments you’re targeting e.g. not the Financial Times because a cheap slot appeared when you planned for NME.
Additionally, marketers also need to orchestrate campaigns across multiple media, including social media where some of your most vehement critics will reside. This is where your efforts will be judged and discussed, so it’s crucial to have an ear in on the conversation so that follow-ups can be planned, amendments can be discussed and disasters can be quickly pulled and apologised for.
So, in conclusion, great marketing occurs when data and creativity work together. Data can inspire creative thinking by suggesting themes, or can work as a sounding board to try and predict a campaign’s reception.
It is how creative people interpret data and see opportunities and stories between the lines of numbers where the true talent in marketing lies. This is what a modern Don Draper would be doing (while sipping a skinny latté, not a whisky).
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