Moneyball is a story about baseball.
Historically, scouts, armed with a traditional set of statistics – like batting average, stolen bases, and runs batted in – gave their opinions on which players should be hired.
But a cash crunch forced innovation, and the Oakland As developed a new system that used new data in new ways to make more accurate predictions. Moneyball told the story of that general manager’s struggle to get acceptance for the new ideas.
Sabermetrics (baseball data analytics) caused many arguments about whether you could really simplify complicated concepts down to mere numbers, and whether that could possibly be as accurate as trusting expert opinions.
Does this sound familiar?
Recently, the New Yorker ran an article called “How the Math Men Overthrew the Mad Men,” an excerpt from columnist Ken Auletta’s book Frenemies: The Epic Destruction of the Ad Business (and Everything Else).
He begins, “Once, Mad Men ruled advertising. They’ve now been eclipsed by Math Men—the engineers and data scientists whose province is machines, algorithms, pureed data, and artificial intelligence. … The power of Math Men is awesome.”
Data has caused upheaval in advertising, as it has in many other industries – sports, journalism, taxis, publishing, retail, music, etc. We’ve learned how much more efficient and effective we can be if we pay attention to statistics.
So: in a world where data seems like it can tell us everything, is independent thought still valuable?
Well, you can find plenty of doomsayers claiming that it’s only a matter of time before ad copy, bestselling novels, and movie scripts are all written by AI algorithms. For the foreseeable future, though, that’s not happening.
Creativity is – perhaps even by definition – not automated.
But what IS true is that today, neither creativity nor data can stand alone.
Today, to be successful, marketers must combine adept creativity with virtuoso skill with data. We must be able to conceive of new approaches that fit their brand and engage their customers, AND know to gather, cut, understand, and act on data.
The balance is constantly shifting between creativity and data, and a sort of “arms race” keeps it changing. When personalization feels like the norm, an example of standout personal creativity catches the public’s attention. When creative is fighting for novelty value, a new way to scale targeted messaging will be what seems noteworthy.
People, relationships, and ideas are as necessary as ever. But today, to be effective, they must be built on a solid foundation of data proving that they’re aimed in the right direction.