There’s a fascinating debate raging in the DigitalNext section of Ad Age that captures some of the current “culture wars” on Madison Avenue between marketers (“mad men”) and technologists (“math men”).
A few weeks ago, Kendall Allen wrote a piece titled: The Dangers Of Online Advertising’s “Math State” that begins with this shot across the bow:
Ever notice that in online advertising no one talks about the message? It’s all about the mechanics, how an ad is bought, served, delivered because that’s where the cool money is. Even though the supporting technology and platforms have never been more abundant, capable, efficient and smart, we remain a math state, which ultimately will backfire and dumb down the agency ranks.
The rest of her article rails against the increasing dominance of the “math state” mindframe, especially in the agency community, and the harm that is doing to brands and the DNA of agency talent:
With our hyper-focus on efficiency, mastery of the mechanics, tuning of the [tool sets] — what can we really expect to do long-term for the brand? Even though they all have certain performance goals and sales targets, was the brand marketer’s ultimate goal always such large-scale ROI? What about competitive marketshare; brand visibility; consumer advocacy; and so on? The way we operate now suggests that mass efficiency and uber ROI are the only imperatives. This cannot be an authentic long-standing objective that clients really have in their heart of hearts. We absolutely bred that beast with our math and our fancy tools.
Joe Zawadzki responded the following week with a rebuttal: Why the “Math Men” Will Set Online Advertising Free.
He pushes back hard — not that technology should rule the roost, but that rather it’s an enabler for the very goals Kendall is championing. He writes, “In the past three years, all of those scary concepts of RTB, DSP, ad exchanges and data exchanges have been about radically fixing digital advertising — using technology and math [to] do what computers and models do best — freeing people up to be able to think.”
A section of his article that I found particularly compelling:
There’s no unringing a bell: math and technology are part of [the] future of marketing.
But it’s not art or science, people or machine. It’s mad men AND math men.
Marketers can rise up above the drudgery of execution. They can put systems in place — yes, the demand-side platform — that provide the technical and analytic infrastructure to succeed in this next generation of marketing. Math and technology have already been bundled and made easy to use, so why resist: let the machines do what they are good at, and let them help the marketer be smart again.
Then marketers can focus on stunning creative concepts, or bold re-imaginings of the brand promise. The machine won’t come up with the message, but it will optimize the medium like it’s no one’s business.
Kendall (and a whole mob of other people) then join in the comments.
Kendall replies, “I do not eschew the math. But, I am deeply wary of its dominance in the business and brand-building equation. That is dominance implied by a total math state that we run the risk of establishing if we don’t keep mindful of the balance.”
Good points on all sides. What do you think?
(Thanks for alerting me to this, Audrey.)