Last updated: June 4, 2007 12:13 pm

Google data or human nature?

Q&A: Maurice Saatchi

In his 40 years in advertising, Maurice Saatchi has been responsible for some of the industry’s best known slogans - phrases such as “The world’s favourite airline” and “Labour isn’t working.”

Now the executive director of M&C, Lord Saatchi writes in the Financial Times that “the worlds’ great consumer goods companies are agog at how Google’s systematic, logical computation can lead the advertiser into an earthly paradise of universal enlightenment – where all the problems of selling and marketing are solved by the same method: the method of data...they are understandably mesmerised by the possibility that the wastage involved in the $600bn spent annually on advertising can be eliminated at the touch of a button”

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But, argues Lord Saatchi, “human nature is not amenable to prediction based on the trends or tendencies prevailing at the time. It is amenable to startling creativity of the kind practiced by great artists, directors, writers, musicians, actors, who know how to touch a chord in humans everywhere.”

Will Google and the internet reduce unnecessary advertising? Lord Saatchi answers readers’ questions.

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Could you predict some new, still unseen ways of advertising that according to you, could compete with Google and bring back the glory to traditional advertising?
Kliment Karalievski, Ohrid, Macedonia

Lord Saatchi: There is no rivalry between Google and traditional advertising. Google is just one of many media alternatives which we evaluate in a neutral manner on behalf of our clients. Google’s particular emphasis on words is most welcome to us because language is our speciality.

It may well be true that Google’s methodology requires different skills to exploit it best and our own concept of One Word Equity provides that. It says that the marketing battleground today is the fight for the global ownership of one word i.e that companies will seek to define the one word that they most want instantly associated with their brand name around the world – and then own it. That is One Word Equity, the most priceless asset of the digital age.

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I am a former ad executive and now a client. My problem with ad agencies is that they have failed to evolve their methods in 20 years and can rarely justify their proposals. Why is a 60 ad better than a 30 ad? Why should we believe that a black and white film will have more ’impact’ than colour (I’m using examples of the types of things I hear). Most agencies seem to loathe any type of research (particularly quantitative), yet many of these have advanced a great deal. The benefit of the Google type approach is that it enables analysis of efficacy. It is not a replacement for traditional advertising but certainly a valuable addition. I think traditional ad agencies should invest more in harnessing new technology and research methods to improve their own offer.
Matt Warren, Paris

Lord Saatchi: Of course they should and if they are wise they already have. Why would anybody turn down any information which could assist in the task of assessing the effectiveness of such an expensive item as advertising? Just so long as nobody runs away with the idea that the data can itself provide the answer. As the article says, things would be too easy if that were true but that is not how the Gods have arranged human life.

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Rather than submitting us to the Google algorithm, the internet has actually unleashed enormous creativity in the general public. How well do you feel the creative elite, like M&C, have responded to this democratisation of creativity?
Jonathan Bean, New York

Lord Saatchi: With pride. Because the public around the world admires and respects the creative individuals who work in advertising because they are able to make visual images which simplify complicated arguments into striking visual messages. This is what the internet enables people to do by demonstrating their own creativity – an enormously satisfying thing to do.

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Google’s primary contribution to advertising seems to be that it matches up supply and demand better. So perhaps Google’s model will take care of the mechanical aspects of advertising going forward. Would it be right to say that startling creativity will always be needed because it creates demand for products - products people do not even know they want until they see the advertising?
Aran Lawrence, New York

Lord Saatchi: Yes you are right. The best example I can give you comes from our own search advertising experience. We have found in several different market categories that if a potential customer comes to your site directly i.e by typing in your brand name first, your chances of making an actual transaction with that person, there and then, are double what they would have been if the person arrived at your site having previously typed in your market category.

Now if anyone can tell me, here and now, how to get someone to put in the brand name first, and not the brand category, we’ll erect a statue to you in Trafalgar Square.

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Will the majority of advertising media be traded on electronic platforms in the future? Similar to the purchase of google ad words?
Justin, London

Lord Saatchi: Yes

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This may be a facetious questions - but how many times did Lord Saatchi access Google to check all his quotes while researching the article? And therefore did Google make his research more accurate?
Jason Nisse, London

Lord Saatchi: Yes, of course Jason which is why Google is so helpful to me. But I’d like to know how it would be helpful to the profits of any company to learn of my interest in Aristotle and Orson Welles. Perhaps they could sell me Greek movies

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It may be that human nature has gross characteristics that enable a company to succeed and reasonably grab market share. However how do you propose to meet the needs of the 7m people in the UK who are functionally illiterate? They are in general much less involved in the economy, so it is harder to respond to their choices.
Jonathan Chetwynd, SW8

Lord Saatchi: You’re right. I suppose the only way to reach them is by word of mouth.

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How do you weigh shareholder returns against softer stakeholder concerns? Paid for search data (Yellow Pages model) is analysis of what a user has done. It shows what happened, although there may still be some interpretation as to why it happened. For a marketer/advertiser this is powerful stuff and measure of the response, and hence success or failure, can be made. So why does Lord Saatchi compare this with market research? Is this a misunderstanding of what paid for search is and its role in an integrated campaign (I don’t view it as an either/or to advertising) or a muddying of the waters in ongoing debate on analytics vs creativity?
Barry Richards, London

Lord Saatchi: Nobody has a magic lamp which can tell you in advance whether what you say will be effective in persuading an audience. If anyone had such an item, they would make Google’s billionaire founders look like paupers. The father of the quantitative approach to human psychology proposed by Google was Professor B. F Skinner from Harvard. He took the view that all this Freudian nonsense was so much unscientific mumbo-jumbo. In his more measurable approach, people merely responded to certain stimuli: reward and punishment, pleasure and pain.

Laboratory rats, he told his students, moved towards pleasure, in the form of cheese, and away from pain, in the form of an electric shock. These laboratory experiments proved his theory so he said. Unfortunately, his mathematical Pleasure/Pain formula is long forgotten. What Professor Skinner overlooked is the ghastly possibility that some human beings are so complicated that they get their cheese from electric shocks.

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I’d like to point to one word which blows away the pretence that marketing veneer is a key driver in corporate success: ClubCard. Tesco is the most successful grocer because it uses data to give customers what they want... it’s not trying to tell them stories. The big step forward comes from the ability of computing power to crunch the data and make sense of the buying patterns. That’s proper forensic marketing. So, what’s with the scare story that Google is a scorpion that will sting the hand that feeds?
Charlie Hoult, Loewy, London

Lord Saatchi: I’m glad you have brought up the Tesco ClubCard. I thought about that a lot when I was writing the article. Of course it’s true that Tesco’s analysis of her buying habits would reveal that my assistant Beatrice was a regular purchaser of skin moisturisers. Naturally it would then be logical for Tesco to offer her new moisturising products, 2-for-1 offers for her favourite brand etc. which is exactly what they do. But Google claims to go much further by suggesting that if we also knew that Beatrice had searched for make-up schools then Google could advise her to marry a dermatologist.

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There is widespread perception among advertising people that clients who do believe in investment in creativity are a dying breed. What does Lord Saatchi think this will do to the business model of the big marketing communications groups? Will margins in the big multinational creative agencies continue to decline to such an extent that they will lose more talent and fade in importance despite client demands for centralisation? Or will the creative business people in the agencies find a way to justify the unpredictability of creativity and its ROI that can be understood by pedants and bean counters.
Judy Stephenson, London

Lord Saatchi: It makes no difference to us which direction the media industry takes. In fact the fastest growing part of our company at the moment happens to be digital media buying. The great point to remember is that we act as an impartial guide through all the new media choices and channels. All media owners want to attract advertising revenue. Google is no different.

When television arrived it claimed to solve the problem of low reading and noting scores for national press advertisements by providing a ’captive audience’. That was said to be the charm of the 30 second TV commercial. Today Google says it has a replacement for the interruptive TV model. We are neutral about all these competing claims. We act as an impartial expert weighing up the alternatives and that is what major advertisers value.

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I am curious at what the point of your article is. I think nobody in his right mind disputes the need for advertising, branding and differentiation. Nor does anybody dispute the role advertisers play in building those. However, technology is here to stay and you and your colleagues must find a way to harness that to your benefit instead of defending the old order. Otherwise, your profession will go the way of the empire, leaving the world a dull place inhabited by machines and search robots.
Haim Toeg, Long Beach, California

Lord Saatchi: The point of the article is that Google, brilliant organisation though it is, takes a step too far in suggesting that an individual’s digital search history is all that is required to know what they want. That is like saying all you need to sell something to someone is their CV.

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Background

Maurice Saatchi: Google data versus human nature

Google’s goal: to organise your daily life

Video: Maija Palmer looks at Google’s ambition to maximise the data it holds on its users

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