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Why advertising needs to be sexy again

By Caspar Schlickum

January 20, 2014 | 4 min read

I’d be a wealthy man if I had a euro for every time someone at a conference flashed up a slide of Don Draper. Don, staring out at today’s ad industry, Scotch in hand, coolly mocking us for our data obsessed, media-led world.

Caspar Schlickum

“We are Math Men”, we cry, and attempt to stare down Don, confident that we know much more now than he did then.

But do we? Are we missing something important?

10 years ago, I moved out of banking to advertising, a move that had nothing to do with pay (I assure you) and even less to do with big data opportunities. Everything that drew me to advertising I learned as a 15 year old, doing work experience in an agency in Melbourne.

Advertising was the sexiest thing I had ever seen. I could point proudly at the telly, to the ads I had (watched being) made, and all my friends thought I was cool. I basked in the reflected glory of the Mad Men.

So what’s the point?

I think we can all agree that big data (despite unreasonable levels of hype), has a massive potential to transform the way marketing is done.

However, no matter how much we try and convince ourselves that the machines are taking over, this is still a people business. It’s just a different kind of person we need to attract. The big challenge is that there is a whole lot of competition for data people, and ironically, the only way we stand a chance of competing is not to look forward, but to look back at the heritage of our industry.

Stop for a minute and imagine you’re a data person looking for your next job. You see an ad for a role at CERN. It’s a dream ticket. If you have an opportunity to work at CERN, you take it. Why? Have you SEEN it? Who would NOT want to work with this thing?

Nothing to do with pay, and everything to do with the higher order benefit of working on what is probably one of the world’s greatest scientific achievements. You were THERE.

Or take any large investment bank. If you are a data person who can extract a few basis points of value out of a trade by tweaking an algorithm, you are a god. And they pay you like a god. So what data person would NOT want to work there?

Maybe one day, when we are leveraging the power of data more effectively within our industry, we can pay like investment bankers. In the meantime, the marginal gain from an algorithm tweak is nowhere near as valuable in advertising as it is in banking. So it’s unlikely that a data person will get paid in mountains of gold.

So my point (as we finally come around to it), is that the only way we are going to get these people into our industry is to be cool again. We need to embrace our inner Don Draper, not discard him to the annals of history. Advertising needs to be sexy again, because that is the only way we are going to attract the new talent that probably isn’t even thinking about this industry as a career option.

We need to be Mad Men. Does anyone have a light?

Caspar Schlickum is CEO, EMEA for Xaxis

Picture courtesy of CERN

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