I once had the privilege, albeit very briefly, to work for one of the great icons of advertising, David Ogilvy. Anybody who has ever read any of his books or sayings will know that he not only lived and breathed brands and advertising – he was also the first to embed and insist upon research as being the bedrock of great advertising and brand building.
Reading a post on LinkedIn this weekend quoting Ogilvy, I wondered what the Great Man would have thought of Machine Learning?
Perhaps we can find a clue or two in some of his more prominent sayings and rules. Number One among these was “Your role is to sell, don’t let anything distract you from the sole purpose of advertising.” So, I suppose if he had seen a role for Machine Learning in enhancing that ‘sole purpose’, he would have embraced it. That there is such a role, to me, is pretty clear and therefore Machine Learning (or AI) is very likely to (and should) play its part in increasing our ability to sell.
Similarly, when it comes to Ogilvy’s second rule: what is the product and who is it for? Positioning for David Ogilvy was absolutely key to advertising and brand success. That Machine Learning has a place in allowing us much more rapidly and more accurately to place our consumers by learning about their behavior is indisputable.
But the thing that made Ogilvy Ogilvy was not just knowing the consumer behaviorally – it was to know them intimately, to understand their language and to get inside their emotions. And this was why he insisted that research – real research, not quantum mathematics – be at the center of all his agency’s work. “Advertisers who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore the signs of their enemies”, he wrote. And, to Ogilvy, research did not just mean understanding behaviors, it meant knowing (really knowing) the person you are trying to reach, how they think and what they need.
Aye, and there lies the rub.
I respectfully submit that Machine Learning can perhaps ape some of this through connecting disparate dots, but what it cannot do is understand how we think and the role that emotion plays in that thinking and our decision-making. And it is that understanding that makes for great advertising and, indeed, for great brand building.
Steve Jobs claimed that Apple did not do research. As someone who did an awful lot of research for Apple in the day, I can tell you that is baloney. Indeed, research fed into Jobs’ amazing design instincts to the point that he innately understood what people wanted emotionally and was able to translate those into designs that fed those emotions. No amount of Machine Learning would be able to do that.
And that is why those that tell you that the era of primary research is dead are full of it. It is no coincidence that the research agency once known as BrainJuicer is now called System 1 – and that they founded their own ad agency to go alongside.
Advertising that does not appeal to our emotions in one way or another is just noise. Count the times you have been irritated today by irrelevant, misdirected or plain stupid messages online and I think you will begin to agree. And, as the Great Man said, advertising without research – real research into the emotions and primal needs of people – is just dangerous.
Where are the Ogilvy’s of today when we need them?