Data is human at heart

For over a hundred years, innovation in technology has often come at the cost of human jobs. So today, as the capture and analysis of data becomes increasingly central to the advertising industry, should we be worried that robots are infiltrating our agencies? “Maybe in twenty or thirty years’ time,” says Exponential’s Senior Director of Insights, Bryan Melmed. “The data we are collecting now is human, and it takes a human to know a human.”

Marketing to groups, especially young people, would be impossible for a machine, Melmed maintains. Advertising in the Fifties might have consisted of the simplistic, traditional family unit of husband/father, wife/mother and children, but the social revolutions that followed put paid to that.

“Millennials were not defined by a war, or by the liberation of the Sixties, or the self-expression of the Eighties,” says Melmed. “They’re defined by technology. This has served to drive them in a million directions at once. Growing up immersed in the internet was not a unifying experience, but a disruptive one. The experience of Millennials is widely different across America, across Europe and across the world.”

Melmed is convinced that, no matter how effectively a robot can mine and deliver information on consumer interests, a human being is needed to read between the lines. Because robots are unable to interpret the one thing which drives people to make decisions – emotion.

For instance; in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, there was a sudden influx of married men visiting dating websites. On first reflection, this isn’t a great sign, until you consider that more and more dating sites have branched out into publishing great content about romance. Where better to look for tips on how to treat your lovely wife? A robot wouldn’t necessarily make that connection (or rationalization).

Will machines eventually be able to understand emotion? Melmed believes that as we become better able to measure people, from their interests in the shopping aisle to their pulse measured on their smart watch, we paint a more detailed picture. Machines may become more adept at understanding our physiological responses to emotion, but the context will remain out of reach. A racing heart or raised temperature could be from exercise, anxiety, or excitement over that new washing power. “Data for advertising should be like a robot suit,” concludes Melmed. “There needs to be a human at its core.”


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