Data, data, data.  Advertising Week was buzzing with chatter about data – its importance for the advertising industry, future implications, how to improve and maximize data, privacy and security issues… The list goes on.  So it was only appropriate for Ogilvy & Mather North America Chief Creative Officer Steve Simpson’s keynote address at the National Advertising Division’s annual conference on Monday of Advertising Week to be focused on big data.  Adweek reporter Katy Bachman put it well in summing up the key takeaway from Steve’s address: “In the age of big data, advertisers need to get their act together when it comes to online privacy.”

The Way I See It

  • I see a boom in online behavioral advertising and interest-based advertising, which has given rise to the need for stricter consumer data protection standards for the industry.
  • I see a number of challenges and potential pitfalls that advertising agencies and brands need to be cautious of in order to be able to reap the benefits of all of the data that is becoming available.
  • I see the need for increased transparency across the industry in order to educate consumers about privacy policies and the data that is being collected from them.

The Way the Industry Sees It

I had the pleasure of speaking with Steve Simpson, Ogilvy & Mather North America Chief Creative Officer, after Advertising Week to further discuss his NAD keynote address and his thoughts on data, privacy, creative, and more.


During your keynote, you said that this is a “massive creative issue.” Can you elaborate on this point? What steps should the advertising industry take to address this creative issue?

For marketers, privacy is an ethical issue, it’s a legal and regulatory issue, but it’s also a respect issue. This is to say, the new issues are the old issues.  It could be argued that the old days of one-way communication didn’t respect the consumer in the broadness of the messaging or bluntness of the media.  It intruded on your time with messages for products or services in which you often had no interest and for which you had no use. But the difference was the consumer knew what was what: the rules of the game were well known, transparent, and pretty much invariable.  The message was honest about its intent and succeeded by the power of its proposition or the force of its charm.  And when you turned the TV off, the TV didn’t rise from its stand, follow you about, and note all your doings.  It stayed shut off, because the “off” switch was a simple unambiguous technological act: “off” meant “off,” it didn’t mean “not apparently on, but watching you all day to see how you like it.”  While many in the industry declare with dewy eyes and a catch in the voice that the “consumer is now in control,” they are telling only half of the truth.  Because while the consumer can with high dudgeon tell a company exactly how to make a product better according to his own exacting personal standards—“Who’s in control now, you corporate hacks!!!!”—ending his tweet or review with a flurry of exclamation points, and moves on—he doesn’t move on, because the company he’s engaged isn’t ready to move on from him, but is only beginning to track him relentlessly in return for his “valuable inputs and collaboration.”

You said that if an advertiser is not respectful of its consumers’ privacy concerns that the job to be done by advertising, and the role of the creative director for that account, is very difficult.  Can you explain what you mean?

If consumers feel that marketers have relied solely on technology to track and target them, without openness and transparency, or without their knowledge or consent, then we have put the consumer into a state of alarm, resentment and even active resistance to our message.  Hence, the “massive creative issue.” What kind of ad can we create that is so wonderful it can overcome this?  Dear consumer, you feel violated—ready for a funny ad?

You work with some of the most important and valuable global brands in business today.  Without giving away any trade secrets, how does data and information about the potential type of customers for these companies help you in your role as the creative director on these accounts?

I won’t go into specific projects, because in my experience everybody in the industry enjoys free-wheeling general discussion until it comes too near his own case.  But we are at work on several projects where, with personalization granted by consumer permission, we are designing marketing that has the potential to be more useful than, possibly, ever before.  Don’t be thrown by the word useful. This does not mean dull, or uninventive, or merely utilitarian; it simply means that the communication has a much better chance of serving the right need for the right person at the right time.  And it will be brilliantly effective or creative, or not, depending upon our own talents.  To quote the Talking Heads: “Same as it ever was, same as it ever was…”

There are some who believe that with the greater focus on data and analytics, the role of creativity and the making of creative advertising are less important. Do you agree with that statement and if not, why?

Who believes that? Send them to me; we’ll have coffee.  Once we have chased the consumer over acres of “Big Data,” once we have picked over their habits and quirks and predilections with our sharp delicate analytical tools, once we have run them to ground right in their very bedrooms, once we have stopped them and asked them for their attention and they pause and prepare to listen, we say—what? The “what” is the creative and it had better be good.

There are some who read or hear the words “data” and “advertising” and they are fearful. What would you say to them to make them less concerned?

“Data” is knowing. If the terms of knowing are agreed by all parties (this is no small thing, but it is vital), then marketing and advertising can become more intelligent, more useful and ultimately more creative.

What is the coolest thing in your office right now?

The coolest thing in our office is on our office: the roof of our 11-story building on 11th Avenue in Manhattan. Up top, we have a bar, patio and shaded veranda.  During the summer, we have the Battle of the Rooftop Bars with the Ink Hotel across the way.  I like our crowd better; smart, creative, perfectionist.  I believe this is not a requirement to get into the Ink Hotel bar, but it is for ours.