Big Data Fail (Or, Keep the Humans)

By The Cog Blog Archives
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Big data has failed me. Like every right-minded person I bought the argument that world peace would be achieved, or at least that my life would be immeasurably better as a result of all those clever algorithms. Yet somehow I am still bombarded by unimaginable crap every day -- and this crap is not just annoying it is startlingly, professionally irrelevant.

Here is a selection of a few days’ worth of emails to me at Brian Jacobs and Associates. To be clear, these are all verbatims purportedly from named individuals (a big hello to Jane, Judith and Diane) and sent to my business, which is visible online, and not my private address which I do my best to keep hidden:

"Telemarketing is one of the most cost effective methods of driving your sales forward, providing Brian Jacobs and Associates Ltd with an impressive ROI.”


"Compared to stamp prices, you can save substantially with franked mail.”


"If any employees at Brian Jacobs and Associates Ltd use a car on a regular basis for work, you could benefit from increased safety with Vehicle Tracking.”


"Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) systems are a modern day alternative to till systems, allowing you to quickly scan items and helping Brian Jacobs and Associates Ltd to operate more efficiently with a touch screen device.”


"If Brian Jacobs and Associates Ltd doesn't accept card payments you could be missing out on potential sales.”


"Glad to know you're on the market for plastic molds.”

All bar one of these (the last one, my personal favourite, if only for the use of the word “on” coupled with the misspelling of “moulds”) come from the same address, compare@markethub.

For goodness sake, Markethub, have you never heard of big data? Have you considered the ROI opportunities open to of using the simplest filters to work out that a) we like to think we know about telemarketing; b) that we are not a major user of post; c) that we do not have a nationwide sales team; and d) that we are not a retailer? Did no-one look at our website?

No, of course not, because compare@markethub is an automated junk email generator spewing out irrelevant garbage every day to random addresses in the forlorn hope that some idiot somewhere will try to unsubscribe (as I did) and thus prove that there is a real person at the other end. No people are involved (surely?).

There is a serious point to be made here. We assume that just because the technology exists people will use it; and just because the theory sounds great it will work in practice.

Markethub may be a bunch of un-manned algorithms determined to drive me to the brink of insanity but someone has convinced someone else that theirs’ is a formula that works in some way or at some level; otherwise why bother? It may all be nonsense (I’m not going to make the same mistake twice and interact with their “offers” in any way to find out), but it’s still nasty nonsense.

Furthermore it’s fully automated, programmatic (“we have a way of targeting small businesses”) nasty nonsense, untouched by human hand. People can make mistakes but I would like to think that even the dimmest would improve Markethub.

Cut out the people at your peril is the message. Machines may be clever but they’re not that clever.

Brian Jacobs spent over 35 years in advertising, media and research agencies including spells atBrian JacobsLeo Burnett (UK, EMEA, International Media Director), Carat International (Managing Director), Universal McCann (EMEA Director) and Millward Brown (EVP, Global Media). He has worked in the UK, EMEA and globally out of the USA. His experience covers shifts from full-service ad agencies to media agencies; from traditional single-commercial-channel TV to multi-faceted digital channels; and from media planning to multi-disciplinary communication planning. Brian can be reached at

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