Speaking (or more like, snarling) at some sort of global conference in Europe, John Hegarty, founder of BBH and a man who knows his way around big ideas, (His company was responsible for commercials such as Levi’s ‘Laundrette’, and ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ for Audi, ‘The Axe (Lynx) Effect’ for Unilever and ‘Keep Walking’ for Johnnie Walker) took a shot at big data. More than a shot, he took a cavalry charge. Everyone was going on and on about how big data is going to be the big deal from now on, Mr. Hegarty fired off, “I’ve spent my life dealing with people who’ve got all the data in the world and yet they can’t invent anything.”
And then his thoughts turned to horses. He added, “Supermarkets have an incredible amount of data coming into them, and yet they didn’t realize they were flogging horsemeat to people…I would have thought someone along the line should have been looking at the broader picture. You look at too much data and you don’t actually see what’s going on around you.”
Spoken like a marketer. Someone who doesn’t take false comfort in the belt and suspenders of numbers, but who looks into the hearts and souls (and stomachs) of his audience. Not consumers, people. People who like horsies.
Data doesn’t show that. Because data only shows you what you are already looking for. That’s why, unless you’ve laid an enormous egg (sorry to mix metaphors — not really…), as anyone who has worked with data knows, if it’s at all close, numbers can be twisted to say anything.
Ask Mr. Romney. His numbers showed he’d win. Right up to the end. The democratic data crunchers, no slouches, knew they had to put some flesh and heart and message onto the those numbers to make them connect. And they did.
Data, if it’s all we rely on, is like generals who are always fighting the last war. And for extra credit, why don’t you Google “Maginot Line” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
I wouldn’t want to abbreviate Mr. Hegarty’s tirade with mine. No. I’ve got to run. So I’ll let him wrap up. When talking about mobile this and app that and data streaming blah blah blah, he pronounced, and I’d like to imagine it was with more than a drop of English ire,
“the only space I want to occupy, the only space that’s interesting to me, is the one between people’s ears. That’s where I want my message to go and how I get there is an irrelevance.”
I think even the old researcher fellow Brit David Ogilvy would have agreed with that one.