News & Views

Technology vs. Creativity: where do Brands and Humanity fit in?

by Contagious Contributor

Creativity is at a crossroads... Ahead of the Cannes Lions, Alan VanderMolen, president, international at WE Communications, lays out the existential crisis at the dark heart of marketing, and the opportunity to address it before it’s too late.

In the opening of Pedro Domingos’ provocative book, The Master Algorithm, he quotes the English philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead: 'Civilisation advances by extending the number of important operations we can perform without thinking about them.'

Hard to believe that Whitehead died in 1947. He never spoke to Alexa. He never got to ‘swipe right’. He never had content based upon his viewing history served up to him on YouTube.

Whitehead’s quote seems prescient for today’s marketing services world. We are obsessed with AdTech. We are using AI, machine learning, predictive analytics and real-time measurement to sharpen our ‘deliverables’. We use technology to customise content that enables transactions between consumers and commodities. We are so tuned in to technology-driven marketing services that we, in my view, run the risk of losing the humanity in marketing and landing ourselves in Orwell’s grey landscapes of 1984.

Who's driving?

I’m no Luddite, for sure. I spend an inordinate amount of time with technology firms and start ups across insights, analytics and creative to ensure that my colleagues and I have a better chance of anticipating what is coming our way to help deliver more exacting work for clients. 

At the same time, however, I’d suggest that creative as we’ve known it is taking a backseat to algorithms. The recent financial results of marketing services companies compared with those of the management consultancies indicate to me that we’re witnessing the commoditisation of creative in favour of the predictability of performance marketing. For those of you going to Cannes later this month, just take a look around at who has the prime cabanas on the beach. You’re not going to run into Omnicom, Publicis, WPP, IPG or Dentsu down there.

While there may appear to be a polarity emerging between technology and creativity, in particular when examining where the majority of marketing dollars are migrating, there is, in fact, an interdependence. Back to our English philosopher for some context. Whitehead birthed process philosophy. It is partially described as an 'urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have consequences for the world around us.'

Bringing it together

There are three such 'integral parts' (or principal actors) in marketing today: Technology, Brands and Humanity. All three will be well represented at the Cannes Lions. Technology will occur as both business and enabler. Brands will occur as celebrants and funders. Humanity will occur as the recipient of much not-for-profit and purpose-driven work. 

Creativity will provide the undercurrent that links (or should link) all three actors. We are in uncertain times when it comes to how technology impacts marketing and when it comes to both the positive and less positive impact technology has on humanity and on brands. Creativity in the modern sense, and as it relates to Whitehead’s process philosophy, has an opportunity to emerge in a greater role than it has ever played. It can be the fuel that powers the positive linkages between technology, brands and humanity. It can also be part of a necessary conscience that anticipates the consequences of the actions of all three actors and helps to guide them in a positive direction.

You can catch Alan VanderMolen and Contagious’ head of trends Katrina Dodd on June 19, presenting their gameshow Who Wants to Be a Human? live on the Terrace Stage at 11am.