A Case Against Digital, Data & Everything Else I Stand For

I run a digital agency, so whatever your challenge you can rest assured I’ll find a digital solution.

This is a problem.

The world is a messy place and as much as we crave simplicity the truth is that complicated challenges usually require complicated solutions. We refer to these complicated solutions as “creativity”.

The narrative in favour of data, digital and all things rational and predictable has now developed such momentum that it’s forcing creativity, once the heart and soul of marketing, into an ever smaller role on the periphery.

This is a worrying trend and so I thought I’d make a rare case against people, well, just like me.



1 – Loss of serendipity – When we take a hyper targeted approach, we make a LOT of assumptions.

  • We assume we know the job title and other defining traits of the decision maker.
  • We assume we know who influences their decisions.
  • We assume that none of these people move around during the course of our customer journey, which for a lot of B2B sales could be 6-18 months.

2 – Loss of costly signalling – A wedding invitation is an unnecessarily fussy way of sending a message, but it’s the very fussiness of it that conveys the significance. Digital ads are cheap, measurable, easy to quantify and infinitely scalable. These are all good things, but they also eliminate any sense of costly signalling.


3 – Loss of public accountability – If I tell a stranger in private that I can sell them a beautiful cottage on a remote island for £50k, I shouldn’t hold my breath for the deposit. There is zero trust.

But if I say that to a room of 500 people, the dynamic is different. “Surely he wouldn’t lie to this many people..?” they think.

Of course your goal isn’t to rip anyone off, but the principle applies – how do you create a sense of public accountability? That’s very difficult if you’re only ever talking on a 1 to 1 basis via digital means.

4 – Loss of imagination – I recently had a troubling chat with a marketing manager. They were convinced that if they could combine their customer data with programmatic ad strategies, they would dominate their market. But the trouble with data is that it’s the result of past activities. To find the next big idea, we need to play around in the fringes, away from the beaten track. It’s here in the undergrowth that remarkable things are discovered.

5 – Loss of attention – As we all follow the data to the same place, not only do we all end up using the same channels and tactics but we also compete for the same eyes and ears. If you target a decision maker on LinkedIn using job title, sector and demographic criteria, it’ll probably be the 50th LinkedIn ad they see that day. But if you target the same person via a beautiful handwritten letter, it will likely have no competition at all.

6 – Loss of jobs – As smart as we feel droning on about big data and AI, if this is how we define our jobs then we’re on a path to extinction. Machine learning works best within structured frameworks, so if all you’re doing is using data to created hyper targeted ads, you can expect a robot to take your seat in the next 5-10 years. Creativity, on the other hand – that slippery thing that simply refuses to be pinned down – may just buy us all a full career. That alone seems a pretty good reason to champion its role.


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