Yesterday, an email arrived in my my inbox. It was from Adobe and it read:

“Don’t build ads. Build relationships.”

Yep. I get it. Don’t talk at them. Don’t try to wow them with cleverness and humour and wordcraft. That’s so… whatever. Simply engage them in a data-orchestrated process culminating in them buying a product and telling everyone else how great it is.

After all, if you’ve been doing your homework, you’ve already collected enough individual data on them to fill the Library of Babel. You know what sites they visit, what they read, what shows they watch, what other products they’ve bought, how much they spent (and when), what times they’re likely to be receptive, what personality type they are… Hell, let them work for your money. Get them to write the bloody ad themselves. They’ll do a better job than you.

But will they?

Well, one thing their ad won’t have is the element of surprise. Real relationships contain a whole lot of uncertainty. People are much more complex and unpredictable than their data trail. They harbour secrets. And what speaks the language of secrets is creativity.

With all those rankings, tracking patterns, predictive analysis, indexing, cross linking, mobile-first, etc., it’s easy to forget that the world is not made up of data. It’s made of something much stranger.

Adobe’s landing page is all about reducing that strangeness by ‘using machine learning to determine patterns between profitable and unprofitable audiences.’ It begins with this statement: “Behind every great ad, there are a million digital connections.”


I would have said that, behind every great ad, there are a million neural connections.