Yes, But Can a Computer Enjoy a Martini?



This blog contends that many areas of work are (or are best thought of and approached as) a blend of the arts and sciences. The changes in the world of advertising and marketing illustrates the rapid pace of change in the skills required and the relative balance between intuition and analysis and between gut-feel and statistics and probability. For example, wrenching changes in the advertising world were highlighted in an article by Suzanne Vranica and Christopher Stewart in a piece they wrote for the Wall Street Journal in which they described the how

…when a former ad buyer Samantha Giangrande began looking to return to work recently after a two-year child rearing break, she noticed an unsettling fact: The advertising world she knew had changed. “I’m 37 years old and extinct,” she said, lamenting that all the agencies she talked to about a job were obsessed with something she didn’t possess – digital experience. Once home to creative types in the mould of Don Draper and Mad Men, Madison Avenue is increasingly a bastion of geeks: computer programmers, data heads and quantitative analysts.

“If you are on the analytics and digital side of things that is where the bulk of the jobs are,” said Talent Zoo’s Amy Hoover. While some ad executives are nervous, for others the massive changes haven’t “sunk in yet,” said Joe Grimaldi, chief executive officer of Mullen, an ad agency owned by Interpublic. “Looking ahead a few years, a lot of these roles will not exist,” he added. Some day, he said, some of the business of buying ads will be automated.

Mr. Sheehan, whose parent company is itself now the subject of takeover speculation, dislikes the new emphasis. “Algorithms cannot give people goosebumps, and algorithms cannot tell a story,” said Mr. Sheehan. They “cannot give you that nugget of insight that differentiates brands and products,” he added. “That is only performed by human beings that can tell stories and understand consumer behavior instinctively.”

Mr. Sheehan is partly right; stories are a powerful way to drive behavior. What I would not count on is that only people, in the future, will have the ability to create emotionally powerful stories that shapes behaviors; computers, accessing enormous data bases, and measuring the impact of various ad and marketing tactics in real-time, will most likely have the ability to write copy (although “assemble” is probably the better term) from a library of tried-and-true formulaic set-pieces that have proven powerful in the past to drive certain human behaviors and perceptions. Political campaigns already make use of big data to micro-tune messages and ad buys; stores monitor our behaviors to tweak personalized ads and coupons (for example read this post on Target’s use of big data: Using Analytics to Detect Pregnant Shoppers.”)

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