PD Scullin

5 years ago · 2 min. reading time · visibility ~10 ·

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Sorry, Technology Is Not Always The Answer


AD AGE published an opinion piece article this week proclaiming the creative director’s role of today will be obsolete in a decade. In the author’s brave new world, artificial intelligence will be critical to marketing success.

The creative director will be a shepherd corralling all those 1s and 0s to build the voice of the brand and serve the right message to the right person at the right time.

The author of the article gives the example of Starbucks serving a digital message to potential customers in Dallas with the headline, “Hey, Dallas!”

A pretty profound marketing insight there. I think that digital ad would probably pull better than one that read, “Hey, St. Louis!” running in Dallas, but a simple A-B test would hopefully give the definitive answer.

This article is another canary in the coal mine proclamation for our industry. It’s the point of view that continually marginalizes creativity for the importance of technology.

At the root of this is the belief that advertising communications are more science than art.

I don’t buy it. Most of what the author wrote about was basic modern marketing. We get it–– customize, geo-message, opportunistic analysis of search data, blah blah blah.

That stuff can and should be done by computers. There is little nuance, psychology, human understanding involved. It’s number crunching.

Get to it computers, crunch away, and no breaks!!!

But the real value that a marketing firm brings a marketer has always been ideas. Human ideas that will pique interest and engage an audience, then create preferences for products and yes, ideally trigger an action resulting in sales.

That’s a tall order, especially when there are 32,498 different media channels available in reaching a consumer. You need more than messages tailored to the geography. Somewhere along the line, there has to be a human connection.

Great campaigns are ones that do that; they are based on insights, empathy and understanding the human condition and how a particular product can benefit it.

Because people are involved, it’s unpredictable. Great creative is playing 3-dimensional chess; there are countless variables and many roads that lead nowhere.

That’s why there are so few great campaigns. As a friend once said, “If it were easy, it’d be easy.”

Or, as the philosopher Ringo Starr said, “It don’t come easy.”

I’m sorry to all those who want technology to solve the dilemma of marketing in the 21st century. I don’t see that happening, not as long as our audience is people.

But maybe if we could implant chips in their head, then the technocrats might have a chance to win.

“Hey, Dallas, buy this–– NOW!!!!”


Patrick Scullin is an empathetic adman and founder of Ames Scullin O'Haire Advertising (ASO). We use creativity and empathy to connect with humanity, helping our clients do great things. 

He’s worked at some of the country’s best agencies on blue chip brands, and with ASO has helped Georgia Aquarium, The Coca-Cola Co., UPS, Golf Pride Golf Grips, Mitsubishi Electric, Delhaize America, Georgia Natural Gas, Mellow Mushroom and more. 

Patrick has two blogs:  Empathetic Adman (marketing pontification) and The Lint Screen (satire, humor, pop culture ramblings).

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John White, MBA

5 years ago #1

Patrick Scullin: Great piece. I am now following. I agree that while tech is essential it can't solve every problem. In fact, sometimes it can do more harm than good.

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