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Andy Rice – on the courage to realise risk

Andy Rice - on the courage to realise risk

Infobesity: Mathemagician Andy Rice on the courage to realise risk

4IR presents various challenges for today’s marketers – none more so than the courage to up their appetite for risk in today’s data-driven world, notes ad legend Andy Rice. LUCINDA JORDAAN reports.

Andy Rice needs little introduction. The award-winning brand strategist’s illustrious career includes him heading up Ogilvy Johannesburg’s account planning department before founding Yellowwood Brand Architects, South Africa’s first brand strategy consultancy.

A recipient of the AdFocus lifetime achievement award, among others, Rice cemented his stature as South Africa’s foremost ad commentator as co-host of Talk Radio 702’s AdFeature with Andy Rice, and his popular Heroes and Zeros podcasts.

As keynote speaker at the recent IMM Graduate School’s Marketing the Future conference, Rice’s presentation gave a wry look at the critical need for human cognition in a tech-based world. The title of his presentation ‘Even a Ferrari has rear view mirrors’ succinctly summarised the gist of his talk: no matter how speedy or sensational your journey, you still need to keep an eye on what you’re leaving behind as you move ahead.

The role of data in marketing

“Data doesn’t always take you to your destination but it will put you on the right road,” he quips, adding later that the biggest concern in updating a talk he first gave 23 years ago at a MultiChoice conference was in appearing to dismiss the vital role data plays in marketing strategy and execution. The danger, though, lies in placing too much emphasis and reliability on that data. “Our obsession with info is overriding a more measured, sensible use of data,” he explains.

Rice draws on a wealth of experience to prove his point, citing Ogilvy UK’s Vice Chairman and founder of its behavioural psychology unit Rory Sutherland’s work on behavioural economics to illustrate that, “Logic will take you to a certain point, but creativity will get you beyond that point.”

Of courage and creativity in 4IR

“Behavioural economics is the bridge between science and behaviour. But where does complementary stuff happen? Between the future and past,” notes Rice, adding that today’s marketers are scared of taking risks, “yet responsible risk-taking should be their very lifeblood” and possibly one of the biggest challenges facing marketers is the need to develop an appetite for taking risks rather than an over-reliance on data.

“They’re cousins, data and creativity – but the unifying family thing would be courage,” explains Rice. “You need data, as it will help you get much closer to the end point. But creativity and thinking will lead you to the truly differentiate disruptive.”

The disruptive impact of 4IR on society has profound implications for the future of work, given how unsettling and disruptive change is on the psyche – which is why Rice places such emphasis on the human element, and the need to balance creativity with intelligence.

“If we had more courage, we would know what to do with data better; we would look beyond it being a channel and how it can enhance the creative process, and not dilute it,” he opines.

Combining a variety of creative case studies with his own industry experience and insights gained from years of consulting, Rice entertainingly laid bare the dangers of relying too heavily on data and forgetting the basic instincts that drive successful campaigns.

A notable example of a campaign that highlights the importance of being courageous enough to take a risk, best illustrated in the case of REI Co-op, an outdoor outlet in the US that, five years ago, decided to go against the status quo, by shutting shop on Black Friday and launching an #OptOutside campaign. The effect could not have been predicted: the campaign, boosted the brand beyond any sales figures, with social media impressions skyrocketing by 7000%, and 2.7 billion media impressions in 24 hours.

The campaign organically grew into a content hub for the brand – and won the Cannes Lions Titanium Grand Prix, one of the ad industry’s highest annual honours.

Any talk on the “future of advertising” tends to be a rehash of what we’ve seen and heard before, contends Rice: “If it’s a trend, it’s already blindingly obvious – and if it’s a fad, it’ll soon fade.” Nevertheless, he explored two ‘trending’ phrases picked up at Cannes to highlight the need for context in a data-driven world. 

Infobesity and mathemagician

The first, ‘infobesity’, refers to the glut of data available. This minefield of information needs to be sifted through to find the golden nuggets of insight that really matter to consumers and the way we run our business.

The second phrase, ‘mathemagician’, refers to the solution to infobesity and represents, says Rice, “the perfect meeting of discipline and skills.” These are the strategists who can acquire information linearly and manipulate it laterally; most of us can either do one or the other.

“Too many marketers use research like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, illumination,” Rice says, quoting industry great David Ogilvy referencing market research in the 1960s and 1970s. He adds, “…the only real risk is to take no risk at all”.

Rice’s advice to marketers? “Keep track of trends and technological changes affecting the way consumers relate and react to brands – but don’t rely only on research. Get out there, meet people, and learn to look at challenges from the outside in; see customers in their entire world, in all aspects of their lives, and work that back into the category you’re dealing in, then into the brand space.”

They’re cousins, data and creativity – but the unifying family thing “would be courage,” explains Rice.

Risk and courage are the crucial human elements in the fourth industrial revolution. The real risks for marketers are:

  • Proof over instinct
  • Channel over insight
  • Numbers over hunches and what you feel is right: “There’s no relation between the power of a big idea, and the cost of a big idea.”
  • Caution over risk
  • How over why

Data over interpretation