Alex Steer

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Big data has an advertising problem

351 words

I hear a lot about how big data is going to transform the advertising industry. Some of which, for the record, I agree with. I think the things that make big data 'big' - the classic 3 Vs of volume, velocity and variety - make possible new ways of working with information to make decisions in the communications planning and measuring process.

But big data, as a sector of the technology industry, has proved surprisingly bad at advertising.

Some players are spending heavily on media and messaging, of course. You can't move without seeing one of the big IT firms telling you that big data is going to change everything. But much of this messaging commits some common errors that make advertisers and marketers cringe. It's patronising, shouty and assumes a passive audience who, when told 'everything you currently do is rubbish,' say 'oh, okay, let me get my wallet out'. It's afflicted by the kind of 'solutions-based' messaging that is based on logic rather than the evidence of how effective communication actually works.

This combination of naked self-interest and failure to understand the principles of advertising explains, I think, why most big data products for marketers are borderline unusable. They are narcissistic in their design - consumed by their own cleverness and determined to force their users to change their ways of working to accommodate them. Hence why many of them are thinly-disguised excuses for selling consulting services to get them back into the hands of the power users for whom they were designed.

The flexibility of a lot of these tools - the idea that they can do everything - is actually toxic, a symptom of the refusal to do a few things well. A properly designed big data product for marketers should be a product (not a consulting shill) that presents the most important data at the point of need, straightforwardly and memorably. In other words, it should be an effective piece of communication in itself. Great apps should work like great ads, and the salespeople going round proclaiming the death of advertising should bear that in mind.

# Alex Steer (04/11/2013)