Big Data or Big Ideas


“Big” and “Data” are the two most buzz worthy words in marketing today. Companies are collecting, sifting through, and picking apart tons of data on customer behavior in an effort to anticipate where the consumer herd is heading next. While I have always used research as the basis for my creative work, I wonder if this obsession can become something of a crutch, and actually stifle the imagination. There is more to a successful brand than an intense reading of the algorithmic tea leaves.

Now would be a good time to take a step back and acknowledge that many of the most successful branding campaigns were due to an intuitive understanding of the needs and wants of the target audience, rather than the result of a detailed analysis of statistics.

thelonius-monk-smFor Instance, there is the famous album cover for “The Unique Thelonius Monk” from the mid-1950’s. Designed to look like a postage stamp to emphasize the singular nature of this then unknown, soon-to-be, jazz great, it came with a sheet of “Stamps” to encourage word of mouth. The strategy paid off with the success of Monk’s next album and the stamps looked so real that several of them were actually used for postage and passed through the U.S. postal system. And let us not forget that Steve Jobs never asked anybody if they wanted an iMac, Phone, or Pod.

The best current example of flat out creativity in branding is the non-campaigns created for Geico by The Martin Agency—it’s been running for almost 20 years (The one without the Gecko, which rates an article of its own.) Each campaign is completely different, with a different creative approach, the common thread being the tag line “a 15-minute call could save you 15 percent (or more) on car insurance,” and, the fact that they all employ humor.

Some of my personal favorites have been:

  • “Celebrity Spoke Persons” especially the ones with Charro and Little Richard, where celebrities “jazz up” the straight forward accounts of everyday people
  •  “Hump Day” with an obnoxious Camel announcing his presence through an otherwise bland office floor.
  • “So Easy a Caveman Can Do  It” showing a literal caveman struggle his way through everyday modern tasks.
  • “The Running of the Bull Dogs” where the famous “Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain, is reenacted with overly affectionate bull dogs.
  • The “Unskippable”, Pre-Roll Campaign, an ad parody that was named AdAge’s 2016 Campaign of the Year. It also won a Film Grand Prix at Cannes in 2015 See article

Here’s a video of the 20 most popular:

Are they effective? Before the campaign Geico was the 8th biggest player in a low-interest, low-involvement category. In 2014 Geico accomplished something historic by overtaking Allstate in the hyper-competitive automotive insurance market. It represents a victory of positioning for the challenger brand and a seismic shift in the insurance category that demotes Allstate to the role of chasing, where once it was the one being chased.

According to Steve Bassett, SVP/Group Creative Director, “Instead of scare tactics, we used humor, and a unique, rational savings message. Most of our work doesn’t start out talking about car insurance. Our work for Geico often starts with a human truth that people can relate to. Humor helps a lot with brand awareness, brand likability, and brand shareability.”

Both the Thelonious Monk Alum cover and the Geico campaigns work because they take things we can all relate to and look at them in an unexpected way, making the audience laugh, think, and ultimately remember.

In the end it’s not a matter of Big Data vs Creativity—we need to strike a balance, and keep an open mind, because you just never know where your next big idea will come from.

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