The Vanilla Beige Bongo Band in Space Pt 1

Its been a while since I’ve tried to write anything down. There are plenty of excuses. But roughly it boils down to me ignoring advice attributed to about a millions different authors that if you want to write you need the discipline of writing everyday (its seems Stephen King did say this in On Writing). Its important to find space to try and hone what you think right? So, a week or so ago one of my colleagues (the lovely Luke Bozeat) asked for an opinion on the tech narrative . . . what follows is roughly my rant of a reply. With a little bit more thought added (not much). And some vitriol edited out.

It is also the first half of where I am at currently on data and technology . . . (really it’s the technology half, the data half will come later today, and is probably where the Vanilla Beige Bongo Band reference really makes sense)

Before I get into this, let’s be clear. I’m a disciple of rigorous analysis. A disciple of knowing your shit. I learnt my media trade at what was TMD Carat Direct. Then I moved into business consultancy. In both those spaces you tend to get found out if you haven’t done the requisite analysis. If you don’t know your shit.

So I’m increasingly worried by the answers we seem to be offering. The answer’s data. Big data. With some big technology which will blow your mind even though you don’t understand it (and frankly neither do I). Now, what’s the question?

Industry commentary, coverage, the Twitterati, conference circuit all seem obsessed by this direction of travel. The prevailing narrative has become about deployment of technology. The deployment of technology becomes an arms race of befuddlement (just look at the history of the space race — why did the US put someone on the moon, because the Russians had put a dog, then a man in space, not because there was any obvious immediate benefit to the human race apart from a conceptual one about horizons).

I’m not sure we are in the technology business. I’m pretty sure we’re not. It is expensive. It has better margins than we do. And much higher R&D budgets.

We are in the business growth / value creation business. The function of a media agency is to quantify investment decisions (whether about content or connections) in order to help grow a client’s business. Now that may be done using a number of tools (qual to quant to robots) or in the modern parlance technologies but the robots are not the story. The humans are. THe humans and their effect on things. People even fly rockets. They man drones. They programme AI (if we must).

Media organisations need to focus on how they help build better, healthier businesses through the tools, processes but most importantly people they have. Rather than the giant algorithm in space.

Trust is eroding where we are allowing that giant equation to become dark matter that everyone flocks to like gnats to a light. Trust is eroding where bots are clicking on ads, where some unscrupulous person is ignoring the different impact between a viewable ad and a non-viewable one. Trust is building where we have good relationships focused on growing businesses through the well thought through deployment of content and connections. These conversations are a very different shape. Yes they may well include some data and some technology in the execution of that growth plan. But the data and technology are not the story.

People have always been suspicious of tech, AI, all that jazz — its one of the prevailing cultural narratives of the post-modern era (if you want to be pretentious about it) from the cold war through 2001 to Her and Ex Machina . . . And for good reason, the robots are after our jobs ( so we sure as hell better not make the conversation about the robots . . .

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