Are we human, or are we data?

By: April 12, 2014
OR Slides re-brands as PicStash It's all about the image

Imagine the following scene: you come home, turn on your smart TV with a voice command. By the timbre of your voice it can detect whether you are happy or sad. From that moment your TV begins to display target advertising according to your mood. This scene may sound far from our current daily lives, but this technology is already being tested in Silicon Valley. You may be thinking to yourself right now: “Another article about another futuristic prototype in a reality that is still way in the future,” but the truth is that this reality has already begun. Furthermore, when the above scene becomes a reality, it will be so natural that we won’t even notice. Yet how can something so specifically targeted become a part of our reality? The answer is simply through data – Big Data.

Let’s set another scene. Imagine a brand of soft drink that triggers a text, segmented by location of the consumer that indicates the location of a nearby vending machine which offers a discount on price according to the ambient temperature – the warmer, the more expensive. This time, however, the scene is not set in the future. It describes the concept of a Coca-Cola campaign in 2006. Yes, many years ago, Big Data was already taking its first steps into the world of advertising, the world of the consumer and most importantly, the world of you, the individual.

Being one of many such targeted individuals I still have difficulty getting my head around the concept of Big Data and I make the assumption that I am not the only one. Due to the infancy of this concept there are several points of view but few are practical. In fact, Big Data as a name doesn’t even come close to explaining the concept well enough, so here is my take on it which will hopefully allow for some clarity: the change is not only related to the volume of data that increases exponentially year on year, but more so to the speed with which this data is generated and the diversity of the data.

A parallel to daily life
Big Data follows the organic nature of human behaviour. It has the potential to become a parallel to daily life, constantly thinking and reacting to the world around it, just like the individual with whom it reacts. This is mind-boggling but at the same time utterly amazing. Putting it into context for you, think of the creative freedom that the use of this data could bring and how it amplifies creative strategic thinking. Big Data doesn’t just open new doors, it creates new doors.

I invite you to imagine how things will change now that we have to think about how the brand behaves with a happy or a sad consumer, just like in the case of the smart TV. This is the process by which we humanise Big Data, how we apply Big Data to our thinking process as humans.

Ford has developed a system that captures the stress levels of the driver through the seat belt. So if your car detects that you are stressed, it blocks calls and texts from your mobile. The system is making decisions for you. Better yet, Ford is taking care of you. Everything is becoming segmented in order to personalise the experience for each consumer. Yes, individually segmenting a mass product in real time is now the reality we live in. This is only possible because every device is now being designed to capture data about the user. A kind of “auto-segmentation” if you will. This is an exciting time for innovators.

Winning over the next generation
Information collection and generation have moved beyond the mouse click. We are now producing data in real time, all the time. Think of the diversity and volume of the data that Google Glass produces daily just from one consumer. Or the Fitbit which captures information about user performance throughout the day and gives us detailed information about our body behaviour. The mouse click seems so primitive already and this exciting new adventure is just beginning. Many of these devices have open APIs, or in other words, free data to be accessed. Brands that manage to get the best out of it are the ones that will win over the next generation.

And for us advertising people, what’s the impact of this change? The impact is massive on all fronts. For planners, there will be more data to understand consumer behaviour. For creatives, the barriers of the real world will be broken down allowing them to impact the consumer in accordance with time, real-time. For media, increasingly it will be more power segmentation. We can now forget about just demographic data or the IAB standard formats. Now we have full access to everything. The Big Data will bring us to a level of sophistication in communication never before achieved.

Knowing what to do before you do it
All of this data brings new scientific aspects to our communication efforts and brings enlightenment in obscure territories. The answer to a previously unanswerable question (“Is my strategy effective?”) will become increasingly easier to answer prior to execution and measuring results.

The reshaping and changing of communication will be an ongoing process always taking one step forward and never having to take a step back to review success or failure. With all of this technology and data we can finally forget about packaged solutions, about defined channels and about thinking of communication inside pre-determined formats. We are finally able to work with something that never changes: our perception, our emotion and our passion in dealing with humans and creating for them. I believe this is because we are the humans and we are the data.

Ivan Adriel is a hybrid (creative and planner) working on digital strategy for connector360 and is passionate about netnography and human behaviour. He also listens to The Killers all the time.