Brands warned over ‘Orwellian’ data collection

Advertising industry stalwarts including Sir John Hegarty, founder of BBH, have warned brands of a potential consumer backlash over the increasing reliance on collecting and using data in marketing.

Advertising Week Europe.
Panelists debate dangers of too much data.

Speaking at the Advertising Week Europe conference in London today (19 March) alongside Bob Greenberg, founder of US agency RGA which works with Nike on personal data tool Fuelband, Hegarty warned brands such as Nike who are collecting a vast amount of personal behaviour data on consumers to “be careful” of relying on data.

He said the way some brands collect consumer behaviour data is “Orwellian” and objectionable.

“There’s a great problem here – throughout history we have fought for freedom to be individual and what you’re doing with [consumer data collection tools such as Nike Fuelband] is taking it away,” he says.

“I think there will be a huge backlash and people will say ‘That’s not the world I want to live in’. Brands that that say ‘I understand you’ – fuck off – you don’t understand me, mind your own business, I don’t want to be understood by you.”

Greenberg, however argued creative uses of data are possible and highlighted the “extraordinary” power of Nike Fuelband’s data visualisation to use personal data to encourage an individual to change their behaviour.

Steve King, worldwide CEO of ZenithOptiMedia, also speaking on the panel added data is not the “golden bullet” it is often seen as.

“It is definitely changing the way you can reach consumers with certain products. You can serve real time ads in milliseconds and there’s huge potential but every advertiser I see has got so much data. There’s a real conundrum. I’ve got examples of clients that have used data in some great ways but we’re taking baby steps – we could drown in data. Not a single client has nailed it,” he says.

Hegarty also warned marketers by focussing too much on data and new technology they risked not seeing what is going on around them and the bigger picture.

He said: “You’d expect a creative person to pour slight scorn on to data. I’ve spent my life dealing with people who have all the data in the world and yet can’t invent anything. Supermarkets have an incredible amount of data coming in to them and they didnt realise they were flogging horse meat to people.”

“When any new technology comes along you have a creative deficit and no one knows what to do with it. You get obsessed with the technology and not what it is actually delivering.”

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