From Mad Men to Math Men: How Data is Changing the Way that Marketers Create Content

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assaf-300x300In this special guest feature, Assaf Baciu, co-founder and SVP Product and Engineering at Persado, brings a historical perspective to the discussion of advertising and how machine learning has revolutionized this field. Assaf is responsible for the progression and foresight of Persado’s growing product portfolio and the management of all product advancements. Prior to joining Persado, Assaf was VP of Product for Upstream, where Persado’s core technology originated. Assaf previously worked for speech and imaging solutions supplier Nuance Communications as a senior director of product strategy where he was responsible for developing on-demand and mobile solutions. Assaf joined Nuance from BeVocal, following its acquisition in 2007. Assaf holds an MBA from the University of San Francisco and a Masters in Social Psychology from the Sorbonne in Paris.

William Bernbach was one of the great pioneers of modern-day advertising, partner in the legendary Doyle Dane Bernbach and the creator of iconic campaigns for VW, American Airlines and others. So when Bernbach wrote a resignation letter to his then-bosses at Grey Advertising, it became a document worth examining.

In it, he noted that when it comes to creating memorable, effective campaigns, “…the danger is a preoccupation with technical skill or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability.”

Today, he’d marvel at a world powered by the very science he denounced as the enemy of his art. With automating and programmatic technologies supercharging the ability to target anyone, anywhere, anytime with any message, it would likely astound, and possibly appall him to discover that the last bastion of advertising and marketing – the creative – can be codified and optimized as well.

Creative can be broken down into discrete elements, and those elements have a material impact on emotional response. After all, the most brilliant piece of advertising won’t sell a single product if it doesn’t impact a person on an emotional level. Today, mathematical algorithms give marketers the ability to swiftly calculate the emotional and tangible effect of every permutation of those elements, making rational recommendations for word choice, image selection and positioning, to ensure that the best version of that message is delivered to its intended audience, every time.

Let it be said: The demand for those who have that ethereal “creative spark” will never wane. But to be truly competitive, marketers would do well to embrace the scientists and mathematicians who can make their creative ideas more accountable and executed at scale.

All of this is important because we’re not working in 1947. Compared to Bernbach’s day, the market is complicated by the Internet, email, social media and banner ads, giving us an influx of digital channels on which to place ads, a torrent of data on consumer behaviors and attitudes, and a more precise link between an ad and a purchase decision.

We’re no longer in a time when you could run an ad and decide three, four or six months down the road whether it was effective or not. Today, data that evaluates an ad’s effectiveness is pouring in almost instantaneously, determining whether people are actually clicking on, opening and paying attention to the creative content you’d like to serve versus what consumers actually respond to. Marketers then need to be able to react and adjust their creative in real time, and they can only do that efficiently through technology.

So, while some might make the case for a bygone era when a single man could come up with the most creative idea and then place that ad in print, regarding that as the pinnacle of consumer engagement, today there are thousands if not millions of creative people – consumers and competitors alike – contributing content across the Internet on a global basis, on behalf of every product, service and idea imaginable.

Defining your audience, making an emotional connection and hoping they’ll respond favorably has been the goal of marketers since before the days of Bill Bernbach. But standing out in a crowd of millions is no longer just about being creative, or different, anymore. Advertising is, irrevocably, well into becoming a science. And its technical application to creative execution is what will make winners today, and tomorrow.


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  1. It will never be pure science. It will always be part data (science) and part human psychology (copywriting).

  2. William Bernbach is really one of the great pioneers. I always follow him. I have read many articles about him.