Can too much information kill an idea?

Information can be very useful. Recently, for example, I was looking to buy a new T-Shirt. I like T-Shirts, and this one in particular had caught me eye. The information that came with it helped me to make my decision – it told me how big it was and how much it would cost me, and after trying it on I was sold. That information was all I needed.

But imagine if I’d been told more. Imagine if I’d not only been told of the size – small so that it fitted me but also made my arms look bigger, and the cost – just enough so I could make the most of the Topman gift card I’d been given for my birthday, but I’d also been told of the shirt’s target audience. I’d been told about the people who normally wear the shirt. I’d been told what time of year the shirt is most likely to be popular, the average demographic of people who like other people who wear the shirt, and what other clothes people who wear that shirt go on to look at next.

Suddenly I’ve got too much information to work with. Suddenly I no longer want the shirt.

Now let’s take that example and put it into common place, moving this blog post nicely onto the point it intends to make:

Advertising.

Recently I was scrolling through the tonnes of absurdities on LinkedIn when I happened across a modified cliche. LinkedIn loves them. This one said, ‘Content has been dethroned – data is the new king.’

My first response was to suggest that content had never been king in the first place. My second was to swallow down the little bit of sick that had come up in my throat.

Here’s why:

When you’re coming up with an idea for an ad campaign, you need a bit of information. This information is delivered in the form of a handy A4 brief, containing things like the product you’re trying to sell, the people who might buy that product, and the thing that makes that product special. Throw in a proposition and you’re good to go. Ideas await.

However, add even more information to that brief and ideas will have to wait a bit longer. When you’re given background information on the product, customer insight on its audience’s shopping habits, feedback on recent marketing attempts, media formats, second cousin’s middle names, planning structure, messaging hierarchy and a stream of other statistics – you’re no longer being asked to come up with an idea, you’re just being asked to wrap some numbers up in a pretty package and present them.

Too much information no longer helps to shape an idea; it confines it, it forces it to tick certain boxes and makes it more difficult to think of something new.

In a recent Guardian article (that I’ve been good enough to link you to here), we were told which jobs could be automated in the future. Creatives weren’t listed as one of them, but how much longer can we genuinely call ourselves that if all we’re doing is painting pictures with data? It becomes more paint by numbers than it does a unique piece of work, a task that anyone could do without needing anything special to set them apart. Step in robots.

I pride myself on being edgy, irreverent and confident – it’s what makes me different in my own little way, and what sometimes leads to me being called a dickhead. But you know, limit me to a list of ingredients and ask me to bake a cake, and it will probably look pretty similar to a cake someone else might make with that very same list.

Ideas depend on a bit of insight, a spark, and a touch of creativity to make them stand out. Shackle that creativity with heaps of information and the idea will die, becoming more and more monotonous until it bears no resemblance to anything original and just looks like the data in a more condensed form.

Sadly I fear that’s the way a lot of content marketing is going. A man from the very well named Karmarama described it as ‘digital garbage advertising‘, highlighting it as a reason more and more ad-blockers are now being used. He’s right.

Leave me under-informed, leave me still asking questions, and let me come up with my own kind of answers. That’s where good ideas come from.

Now, does anyone know what temperature I’m meant to wash this T-Shirt on?

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