Revolut: why the creative industry shouldn't conjure data from thin air

In the latest marketing move by fintech unicorn Revolut to draw criticism, a series of adverts were run which implied that it had analysed user data on a deeper level than should have been possible.

One advert read: "To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?" and another “To the 11,867 people who brought a vegan sausage roll this month. Piers is fuming.”

Ignoring the fact these series of adverts are very similar to a campaign run by Spotify back in 2016, and even side-stepping the backlash around Revolut’s lack of sensitivity around the relationship status of its customer base, there were other issues at play here that we, working in the creative industry, should be wary of.

After a series of complaints from the public and on social media (particularly Twitter) a more critical eye was cast on the claims made in the adverts. How exactly could Revolut tell that a takeaway order was for one person only, that a £1 transaction at Greggs was a vegan sausage roll and not another item of similar value? The short answer was, it couldn’t.

Following a challenge from the FT about how it obtained this data, a spokesperson from Revolut admitted that the figures used were completely fabricated, saying “It’s a fair point. We should have had a line in the ad saying this is a spoof.” As a result, Revolut is now being investigated by the ASA and FCA.

While Revolut is the latest example of a brand being found guilty of plucking figures from thin air, it’s certainly not the only one. There have been several examples of businesses, big and small, fabricating data to be used in marketing, and many more that have likely got away with it scot-free. From Chinese phone brands falsifying sales to get coverage on Alibaba Singles’ Day to fitness associations making up claims about the safety of brands they have a negative relationship with, it’s happened before, and it’ll happen again.

In today’s era of ‘fake news’ and with the sensitivities around data following multiple breaches and The Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s the responsibility of those working in the creative industries to ensure campaigns are all legal and above board. Fabricating data of any kind not only can land you in trouble with the watchdogs and regulators, it also breaks consumer trust, which can have a long-term impact on brand sentiment.

As anyone working in the creative industry will attest to, internal data from a business is a powerful marketing tool, and if harnessed correctly, can be used to great effect. When we start conjuring figures from thin air we move from storytellers to an industry that deliberately tries to pull the wool over consumer’s eyes for the benefit of a brand. The ‘bullshitter’ and ‘con artist’ tag is one that those in PR, marketing and advertising have fought long and hard to shake off.

Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to ensure that all communications going out can be backed up if challenged. We owe it to our industries and consumers to be honest and open, and it’s campaigns like this from Revolut that collectively set us back, and fuel misconceptions about the creative industry.

Matt Village works for W Enterprise

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