The Double-Edged Sword of Insights and Statistics

The Double-Edged Sword of Insights and Statistics

ROAST • 04/04/2017

It’s an oversimplification, but the foundation of capitalism is wants and needs. Some products are desirable, like sports cars, trainers and jacuzzies. These things resonate on an emotional level, just owning one puts a stamp on your life. They help you feel more attractive, more likable and generally more like a winner.

From a brand storytelling perspective, products like these bring a wealth of opportunities, with no end of concepts, collaborators and partners to choose from. The real challenge lies on the other end of the scale with the products you just need. Take a bank account for example. Not having one makes life significantly harder, but there is very little sexy or exciting about owning one. For many, they exist to remind us of how much money we don’t have.

For products like these, the idea of using data as the foundation for creativity is a cornerstone of a content strategy. Putting aside the wealth of stories and insights that come from using customer data, the emotional pull of using insights to drive brand positioning is powerful. Statistics make you seem trustworthy, honest and straight-talking. A company that is willing to pop the bonnet and let you have a look at the nuts and bolts of their operations looks like it has nothing to hide.

Data, particularly proprietary data, can be a double-edged sword; you’re often painting with a limited palette. Good advertising depends on creating easy to grasp ideas that capture the public’s imagination and sticks with them, and data, by its very nature is complicated and convoluted. The public likes simple, and unfortunately data is often anything but. As any scientist, will tell you, the margins between what makes something statistically significant can be very slender. You really don’t come across 99% of results all that often.

You might be trying to find that killer stat that changes the way the public views a product, but unless you keep the methods and concepts relatively simple you might just be trying to make a maths class seem exciting. The best insights often come from finding unsuspected relationships and unexpected correlations, but unless you’re commissioning your own surveys and studies, you will rarely have access to the perfect data set.

That means there is always temptation to try and make the data fit the story and not the other way around. It might be a stereotype, but advertisers are generally glass half full kind of people. Take content marketing for example; you seem to spend a lot of your time looking for a positive spin on things. There’s a deeply ingrained need for people to imagine their life to be better than it actually is, and advertisers have always tapped into this. Buy this and you can be more attractive. Use this and you can be richer. It’s an idea that has been around since someone first had the idea of sticking a poster on a wall.

I suspect the Grey’s I SEA app was a victim of this. A collaboration with the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, the idea was to build an app that users could use to scour the sea and help report refugee boats to relevant authorities. It recently picked up a bronze award at Cannes Lions, and with its innovative marriage of data, technology and social responsibility it’s easy to see why. However, the app quickly found itself in the middle of a media storm, accused of sending the same image to users and using made up weather information to trick users into thinking it’s live.

It’s a scandal that even had Gawker wading in, but I don’t think Grey ever started the project with sinister motives in mind. They simply wanted to build an experience that used data to tell an important social message, but perhaps fell into the trap of making up the story first and then trying to get the data to match.

Although it doesn’t get talked about much, I believe that credibility should be as important as the message, especially when it comes to insights-led campaigns. With everybody spouting statistics to back up anything they want, has the whole idea of statistics become meaningless?  Vic Reeves once joked that 88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot, but when facts and figures are rolled out to support pretty much every crazy claim, it’s doesn’t seem that far from the truth.

People like to say that creativity is the building blocks of brands, but if that’s the case, trust should be the mortar that sticks it all together.