Last Friday in Cannes, David Droga made a number of well-pointed comments about the industry, one of which has been all over the Twittersphere for the past several days. He called Big Data "bullshit" during comments wherein he was making the point that successful advertising is driven by understanding the target.
In spirit, I think Droga is right. Understanding the consumer is the only way to create and carry campaigns to market. But is Big Data is Bullshit? Well kind of. Yes, the industry is doing what we always do and fetishsizing the latest tool that is supposed to make advertising fool-proof. Which always sets off some peoples'...well their... Bullshit Meters. However, is Big Data Bullshit?
I don't think so. I think is going to add to knowledge of consumers that we haven't had to date. It is and will continue to make much of the quantitative data that has driven the industry obsolete -- and it's about time. Most of the Quant tools we use were developed in the 60's and 70's. The fact that we still use these tools in a world that looks nothing like it did 50 years ago is really embarrassing.
I mean why do we still talk about "ratings" or "GRP's", and use tools that were meant to give us measures we were never real sure were accurate anyway? It's like we are still driving around in Model T's in a world that has the technology to build a Ferrari FF. Why shouldn't we be driving the FF... or at least a Camry?
Big Data is going to help us learn more about actual behavior as to opposed to reported or "proscribed" behavior. Our segmentations will become more robust and actionable and CRM is going to be exponentially more informed and as such will be even more crucial for companies to better understand and execute on moving into the future.
So Big Data isn't Bullshit, it's the non-skeptical proponents who are. It's a tool to help us understand consumer behavior, one that we haven't seen to this point. But those that talk about Big Data in the breathless tones reserved for some totem from the gods delivered to give us THE Way forward for advertising are going to be just as wrong as those who thought and spoke the same way about Optimizers and Econometric Models.
The problem with Big Data is the same as all data. It doesn't tell us "why". Why did anyone do make the purchase they did? Why did brand X become iconic and brand Q can't get shelf space?
Data will never be able to tell us that. It is why strategy and people who can provide those strategies and can intuit a consumers' needs, desires, concerns, passions will continue to be the people who are of ultimately the most value, and who will be building the icons of the future.