We live in a divided nation. No, I'm not talking about Leave versus Remain or Tezza versus Jezza. I'm talking about the battle lines being drawn between creatives.
In one corner are the purveyors of The Big Moment, typically paid for with a hefty advertising budget and sold by a Don Draper wannabe. “We create culture,” they say without any sense of irony, ears deaf to the collective national sigh when the Coronation Street ads come on. The cliche of the creative as a frustrated Quentin Tarantino or Will Self is strong in these ones.
In the other corner are the new kids on the block. The purveyors of personalisation and microtargeting, delivered thanks to the wonders of digital data and sold by a Nathan Barley wannabe. “We create intimate personal experiences,” they proclaim, failing to understand that just because I choose not to tell Facebook I'm married doesn't mean I’m in the market for a dating website (note to wife: I’m not, honestly). The cliche of the creative as bearded brogue wearer with an unfinished novel festering on their desktop thanks to a Twitter-induced procrastination disorder is strong in these ones (full disclosure: I’m describing myself here).
A certain amount of competition between these tribes is perhaps inevitable; healthy even. And of course advertising can – when done brilliantly – create cultural moments (see Heineken’s recent Worlds Apart ad), just as targeted content can – when done brilliantly – genuinely strengthen a brand's relationships with its audiences (my team’s social media work for Maersk has led to a meeting with the director general of the WTO, among others).
But if efforts to heal our nation’s other great wound can teach us anything – yes, I am talking about Tezza versus Jezza now – it’s that victory belongs to those who master both of these forms of communication.
During the 2015 general election the Tories spent £1.2m on Facebook ads; Labour spent £16k. During the Brexit referendum Vote Leave spent £3.5m on social media; David Cameron’s government (remember them?) spent £2m of public money. Social ad budgets for this election are predicted to rise again.
Much to the Electoral Commission's chagrin – it's concerned that Facebook's walled garden may have found a hole or two in its distinctly analogue rules on local versus national election campaign spending – there is very little data on the content of that advertising. But it’s highly likely that the parties are using microtargeting to capitalise on an insight they’ve seen on the doorstep for years: that most people are more worried about the frequency of bin collections, or car parking charges at the local library, or who’s going to clean the dog crap off the street, than with economic theory about deficit reduction. Fake news notwithstanding, both Brexit and Trump are testament to the power of this approach.
People without their hands on the data seem convinced of microtargeting’s impact too, hence Whotargetsme.org – a website set up to help track the hidden promises being made so that John Humphrys can nail them to the Today studio wall when it turns out that dogs keep on crapping whatever politicians say or do.
And yet amid these microtargeted dog crap promises (both literal and metaphorical, I suspect), The Big Moment still has its place. In the 2015 general election it was – albeit unscripted – tabloid photos of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich (in your face, personalisation!). In the EU referendum it involved a double decker bus (take that, microtargeting!).
This year’s Big Moment is still up for grabs with a couple of weeks to go, but it could well end up being the Prime Minister’s husband talking on national television about taking the bins out, which I can’t help feeling is The Big Moment and Personalisation finally starting to bridge the divide.
In summary, in the battle for hearts and minds, it's not about personalisation, personalisation, personalisation, or about strong and stable big moments, it's about creatives coming together in the national interest to avoid a coalition of chaos and create content that is both for the many and the few. A red, white and blue approach to creativity, you might say.