The Nerds are on Madison Avenue. Now What?

September 29, 2014

Cannes is an inspiring, intense experience – and the best thing about it is it’s never the same. Yes, of course, the players (the major agencies, etc.) remain pretty much constant, and it’s great to see old friends again, but each year, the content of the presentations and seminars is quite different.

This year, if there was a theme, it was the arrival of technology at the very heart of our business. No longer was technology on the outskirts; this year, the tech firms were center stage. I guess it was an inevitable part of the march of technology into business. After all, over the last few decades every aspect of business has become imbued with technology: finance, operations, logistics, sales… But marketing has been the last bastion holding out against the inroads made by technology, and seemingly insulated from pressures to which other disciplines are subject.

A quick word of clarification: People tend to use the terms “technology” and “data” interchangeably; it is important to know the difference. Without getting too much into semantics, data is information that allows us to make better decisions of all types. And, frankly, data in our business is old news. After all, the entire disciplines of direct marketing and CRM are based on the ability to know as much as possible about consumers at an individual, increasingly personal level.

On the other hand, “technology” is the whole ecosystem – the hardware and software that allows brands to collect, process and depict data. This includes creating brand interfaces with consumers, and this is where the really exciting news came out at Cannes.

This year, there was no doubt that technology is invading marketing. And here’s the good news: Though some people may see technology as the invasion of left-brained, logical thinking into what is essentially a right-brained, instinctive discipline, I see a great liberation. I think the best explanation for my elation was provided by director Spike Jonze, who, when asked about his creative process, replied that he conceived of an idea first, then looked for the technology to help make it come to life. What made him especially excited is that newer technology pushes the limits of his creativity, his ability to depict exactly what he had envisioned, every day.

There are many examples. The British Airways billboard with a little boy excitedly pointing at actual, real BA flights coming in to land at Heathrow, and thereby bringing out the primal joy and excitement associated with air travel. The “Sound of Honda / Ayrton Senna 1989” effort, which reproduced the then-fastest lap at Suzuka Circuit by Senna driving the McLaren Honda MP4/5 in the qualifying of Formula One World Championship in 1989 – by analyzing the driving data, including changes in the accelerator position, engine speed and vehicle speed, and then reproducing the engine sound for the lap using the actual vehicle, the McLaren Honda MP4/5 – all adding up to an amazing light and sound experience.

These are just two examples of what seems to be an ongoing revolution in marketing. As marketers, we have always spoken of customer centricity, the need to get closer to consumers and truly understand their needs and wants, and provide consumers with experiences that are satisfying to them and authentic to the brand. It has always sounded a bit far-off, not quite here. The tech invasion at Cannes showed us that the future is now.

To read the most recent issue of Ketchum Perspectives, click here.

With more than 27 years in senior roles in Consumer Insights and Strategic Planning, RP specializes in leading major research programs; gleaning relevant, actionable, sometimes hard-to-find insights from them; and developing brand, communication and marketing strategies for clients.

RP has on-the-ground global brand strategy experience across geographies (India, Middle East and North America), across categories (Food, Consumer Products, Telecom and Technology) and across major global agencies (J. Walter Thompson, Lowe and DRAFTFCB).

He is passionately devoted to teaching and is a regular faculty member at Miami Ad School and teaches often at major universities, including University of Chicago’s Booth School of Management and Texas A&M University.

RP holds a B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.B.A. in Marketing and Strategy.