"We have become tools of our tools."
– Henry David Thoreau
There's an article in today's AdAge listing The Biggest Advertising News Stories of 2012, and at the top of the list is Data Dominates. It cites Obama's superior handling of big data as key to his recent victory. Also on the list is a story, Super PACs Get Horrible ROI, blaming Romney's loss for his presumably less masterful use of the same information.
The notion that data gleaned in the rearview mirror can somehow dictate which of 250 million media forks in the road to take to reach 120 million voters is utterly preposterous. The fact is, both parties had access to the identical data and then each played the ubiquity card anyway. If Romney had won, the quants on the Republican side would be crowing and it would be the Democrats bemoaning their horrible ROI.
But what condemns this over-emphasis on data to the error bin is the ensuing myopia it spawns regarding the essence – the substance or lack thereof – of the actual message. Knowing precisely where black and Hispanic voters live and how and why they think the way they do wouldn't/couldn't change the color of Romney's message. He sat on a wall of money, stuck both size-12s in his mouth, lost his balance and fell off, and all the king's horses and all the king's men – their reams of data notwithstanding (I can still picture Karl Rove's incredulous initial reaction to and subsequent back-peddling from the bad news he received in real time from Fox News' data gurus as Ohio was poised to go blue) – couldn't put Romney together again. That's what happens when 100% of the voters discover what you think about 47% of them. All the money and data in the world couldn't rescue this own worst enemy from himself.
The second of Marshall McLuhan's 4 laws of media – Reverse: When fully utilized or pushed to its limits, the new media or technology will reverse its original characteristics – would suggest that any message over-exposed in the extreme (i.e. half a billion bucks) begins to work counter to its intended effect. In Romney's case, the more we saw and heard of him, the less we liked him. It had nothing whatsoever to do with data and to claim otherwise is to prove McLuhan's uber thesis that the medium has indeed become its own message.
When Steve Jobs was contemplating the launch of the Macintosh, he decided to go straight for the jugular. One and done in the Super Bowl and the rest is history. The good folks at Apple saw the wisdom in placing their faith in the message first. BTW, isn't it curious that Apple does no online advertising? Why should they? They've seen the data and they know that online is where brand messages go to die.
Proponents of big data can spin things anyway they want, but to credit or blame technology for the success or failure of a worthy message is an insult to anyone with 47% of a brain – not surprisingly the nearly identical amount of which Mitch's partner in crime, Rush Limbaugh, proclaims is tied behind his back. Don't know how much of Romney's brain is similarly apportioned and/or positioned, but I think it's fair to say that where these guys are concerned we can pretty much discount the old adage that two heads are better than one. The good news is this may be just the wakeup call Rush needs to start using his whole brain for a change. My guess is no one will notice the difference, except perhaps his sponsors who may find they're suddenly paying twice as much for the same old bum's Rush.
Had Romney won the election, we'd be reading headlines crediting big data on his victory. But why let the truth get in the way of a good story when all we have to do to make things fit is change the channel or switch political parties.
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