Way, Way Back Many Centuries Ago………

Sir John Hegarty is a well-known Big Data Hater. To the extent that this is a product of an impatience with the industry’s addiction to the latest buzzword, I’m with him.

And if I thought that we were faced with the threat of armies of number-crunchers looking to make a land-grab, I’d be there in the trenches with him. One blast from Hegs’ tin whistle, and I’d dash out over-the-top with him, defending creative thinking from the spreadsheet-loving hordes.

Except that I don’t think that this is, or will be, necessary.

I believe in creativity, for sure. In fact, as I’ve written elsewhere, I think that it can ‘save’ the West. It couldn’t be more important. But it’s not under threat from Big Data: not least because there’s no such thing.

There’s just data. We might have a bit more of it these days. But it’s still just ‘data’ all the same. And we’ve always used data to help inform our thinking, creative or otherwise. Hegs himself knows this, of course. He has forged a hugely successful career out of marrying ‘intelligence’ on the one hand, with ‘magic’ on the other. Data, big or small, is just a part of the jigsaw that makes up the former.

And without it, all great creativity, all great work, fails.

Aristotle had it that effective persuasion, the currency of our industry, was made up of what he termed three ‘appeals’: ethos, pathos and logos. The first ‘appeal’, Ethos, was about the credibility, the authenticity, the believability of the person seeking to do the persuading. The second ‘appeal’, Pathos, was the pushing of the emotional buttons, engaging, persuading on a humanly relevant level. And the third ‘appeal’, logos (a word which we have adopted and bastardised, somewhat clumsily, as our own), was about successfully using reason, the rational, the logical.

For the Greek philosopher, great works of persuasion were, are, and always would be, about achieving the appropriate calibration of all three of these ’appeals’.

Ethos. Happily, the debate about authentic, or purposeful, marketing seems to have been won – at least on an intellectual level, if not always in practice. Barely a conference goes by where someone doesn’t talk earnestly about authenticity’s overarching importance. Pedigree’s ‘We’re for dogs’ is a perfect example of Aristotle’s ethos; a credible, believable campaign that goes to the heart of who they are, what they stand for. In the US (and now here) Amex’s ‘Small Business Saturdays’ is a honest statement by a business that depends on growing more credit card transactions with small retailers: real authenticity. Appeal 1, tick.

Pathos. This one, as an industry, we tend to do pretty well: particularly, one might argue, in London, where countless, world-famous examples constitute an embarrassment of riches. The 1980s ‘Real Fires’ TV spot, complete with dog kissing cat kissing mouse springs to mind, as does Tony Kaye’s emotional masterpiece for British Rail Intercity: ‘anytime you choose, kick off your shoes…..’, Adam & Eve’s work for John Lewis – the list goes on. Appeal 2, tick.

Logos. This third ‘appeal’ is where the data comes in, isn’t it? Anything that we can do, in addition to our authenticity, in addition to the emotional play, to convince our interlocutor, that there is an intellectual basis to our case, has to be good, doesn’t it?

Data isn’t mutually exclusive with great pathos, indeed, per Aristotle, it’s mutually dependent.

Data isn’t going to diminish our creative credibility, it’s going to strengthen it; make it easier to sell bolder ideas.

And – crucially – data isn’t going to go away. Either we as marketers own the data, welcome it, and bring into our lives – not as ‘the answer’ but as part of the journey towards ‘the answer’ – or the number-crunchers will.

And that, as any ancient (or indeed contemporary) Greek will tell you, would be a real tragedy: not very ‘appealing’ at all.

Monticello LLP

– this piece first kindly published by The Marketing Society