The BIG Idea.

journals May 20, 2021

Apple put privacy back under your control recently with its latest iPhone update, iOS 14.5, and the new feature called App Tracking Transparency. Apple announced this change last June and Facebook threw a historical hissy fit. Google has sworn to protect you from unwanted cookies but that’s only because it will strengthen their position as a dominant search advertiser and their business model is much more diversified than Facebook. Otherwise, Google would be crying a loud, sloppy cry just like Facebook.

It is no shock that consumers want digital privacy. What might surprise you is the fact that most marketers are doing everything they can to stop it from happening. So, what’s the big deal with tracking, privacy and advertising? It helps to understand the status quo and then we can take a peek at where we’re headed. Until now, you’ve been tracked like a lab rat and marketers are not giving up without a colossal fight. The Wall Street Journal recently uncovered Proctor and Gamble has been working with “dozens of Chinese trade groups” to build new technology for gathering iPhone user data in a “direct effort to circumvent Apple’s new privacy options.”

Wow. It turns out tracking consumers to sell them more soap, diapers and toothpaste is a really big freaking deal to P&G. Nothing says “capitalism” like partnering with the world’s biggest surveillance state to track consumers like communist dissidents. How have advertisers become so reliant on tracking, data and violating consumer privacy? To answer that question, we have to look at the last 10 years of creative agency talent. Like Hollywood and the newspaper industry, more and more digital disruption made it easier and cheaper to produce content. Experienced reporters, writers and creative talent disappeared (i.e., they were laid off) in an attempt to use programmatic advertising. Content creation was outsourced to algorithms that produced headlines and articles with the highest click-through-rates. Just like the movie industry’s compulsion for sequels and remakes, the advertising industry placed its bet on data instead of focusing on better ideas.

Apple just threw a huge, sticky wrench into the entire system. Not unironically because Apple now has a ton of original content in streaming television and movies, so they’ll be entering the advertising industry much sooner rather than later. At which time, Apple will mine your data for financial gain. Ah, the humans. They never cease to amaze.

All of this flips the script on targeted and measured marketing. While I’m one of the biggest fans of measurement and targeting, let’s not forget the big ideas that can bring new consumers to you without the need for a PhD in computer science and data analytics in order to find the 12 seniors searching for an audiologist in your zip code right now. Targeted ads, metrics and big data are all great, but with Apple and Google determined to put more privacy in the hands of consumers (which is a good thing) we all must acknowledge that professional practice owners need fewer ad solutions and more BIG ideas.

George Lois, the famous creative advertiser, routinely asked What’s the BIG idea?” One of my favorite campaigns of his was “Make Time for Time.” These advertisements subconsciously made the reader feel as though no one really had time to read Time magazine, but important, busy and successful people made time and so should you. It was a big gamble and risky bet. Most subscribers stated they cancelled their subscriptions because they simply didn’t have enough time to read the in-depth reporting cover-to-cover, so they felt like they were wasting their money. Competing magazines were not addressing the elephant in the room. Instead, they were shortening their article length and doing more pop culture coverage and tabloid gossip. When Lois suggested a big counterintuitive idea, the magazine was predictably uncomfortable with his solution and wanted more research. He said, “You can’t research a big idea. The only ideas that truly research well are mediocre ideas. In research, great ideas are always suspect.”

We obviously didn’t have Facebook, Google and online targeting back in the 1960s, but that’s exactly what George Lois was warning us against. Had those tools existed, the board of Time magazine would have embraced them to do more research and target a smaller number of prospects who actually made time to read Time. And they would have missed the big idea and one of their most-successful advertising campaigns ever.

Have we become so reliant on targeting, metrics and data that we’ve forgotten the power of the BIG idea? Here’s your “homework” this week: What BIG ideas do you have that transcend targeting?

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