I’ve been called a geek, nerd, or dork for decades. I think sometimes those weren’t terms of endearment, or commentary on my technical sophistication, but more like someone’s idea of how uncool they thought I was
— for whatever reason.
Little did they know how hip they make me sound now
— although, to be totally transparent with you, my days of
being in the know of everything hi-tech, or of being an early
adopter of the latest gadgets, are in the past. That said, I do
make the effort, virtually every day, to stay informed of what’s
cooking in technology so I can talk intelligently about what’s
on the horizon, what’s working, and what to be mindful and
careful of in our fast-changing world of advertising.
Science Chained to Profit Isn’t So Sweet
Science has been a buzzword for a while. Recently,
though, I’ve seen an increasing number of references — in
a variety of publications, including The Wall Street Journal,
AdExchanger, MediaPost, and Ad Age — to the “science” of
advertising. The trend, as I understand it, is that many of the
larger offline-media companies (TV and radio) are doubling
down on the power of science to spur faster, bigger, and more
It kind of sounds like they’re looking to cure what I call
AED — “Advertising Erectile Dysfunction.” OK, you can
laugh; it’s funny … kind of. But it’s true. And even more
self-evident is that entire media conglomerates are going out
of their way to hire people called “data scientists,” with the
sole intention of unlocking the holy grail hidden in the data
they’ve been (and continue to be) accumulating with one
purpose in mind: to drive profits.
I love profit; it’s a beautiful word, especially when the purpose that drives it comes from the transference of highly leverageable value to clients who are buying what you’re selling.
That’s the basis of capitalism.
If the purpose of media companies hiring
data scientists is focused more on unlocking
the secrets held in their aggregated data than
delivering highly leverageable value to clients, I think we have to ask ourselves some
pointed questions, including:
; Who really believes in the science of
; Why are we so profit-first driven instead of value-first driven?
; What’s behind the idea that unlocking the so-called
science of advertising is going to release untold profits?
; And perhaps most importantly: Are we willing to dis-
cuss our answers in thoughtful, honest conversation?
I’ll be straightforward with you (and I’ll bet some of you
will think I’m some kind of dork because of that): it sounds
like we’ve been hypnotized by a lot of really slick looking
full-page ads in a variety of trade publications, as well as a
relentless drum-beating of “data-first = profit-based” propaganda. These works of near fiction extol the success stories of
integrating data and science to produce unrivaled, prodigious
results at heretofore-unknown profit margins — all without
sharing any of the nightmares of how the cost of hyper-data-targeting negated all potential ROI.
I don’t buy it — pun intended. And not because I’m a
natural-born skeptic. I’m a sales guy — I love being sold, and
I love buying stuff! So, my opinion comes from experience
testing data-based science in advertising. I’m
not saying it’s all hogwash. It’s not. I
am saying that it is not the living
end; it is not the be all, end all;
and it is not deserving of our
sole focus in driving profits for
Applying the Spirit of the
We must re-inject the spirit of
service to our profit seeking. Zig Ziglar often
said that we can have everything we want in life as long as
we help others get everything they want. I’m a fan of that
logic — and of the path down which Zig’s thoughts lead us.
I don’t believe that data and science will lead us to cure
AED. Instead, they will lead us into depression, because we
will have chosen to build our businesses on a house of cards.
One small breeze, and it’ll all come down.
I suggest instead that we take the insights
we can get from data and apply them to the
power of our human creativity and our sincerest desires to be of service to our clients.
We will get it wrong from time to time —
but when we are motivated to be of service,
we can’t ever really fail. Not even if you’re a
geek, nerd, or dork like me.
Science and Spirit in Media, Tech,
BY PETER FEINSTEIN