How Sexual Selection — Not Natural Selection — Explains Opulence in Nature and Society
Branding — in business and in nature — isn’t going away
To use the analogy of the needle in the haystack, more data does increase the number of needles, but it also increases the volume of hay, as well as the frequency of false needles — things we will believe are significant when really they aren’t. The risk of spurious correlations, ephemeral correlations, confounding variables, or confirmation bias can lead to more dumb decisions than insightful ones, with the data giving us a confidence in these decisions that is simply not warranted.
Excerpt from Alchemy, by Rory Sutherland, vice chairman of Ogilvy & Mather
Towards the end of 2017, I published an essay titled: “The Death of Advertising.” The article’s premise was obscured by its title; I didn’t set out to say that advertising would ever truly die, but rather argued that, in a world dominated by data-driven platforms like Facebook and Google, advertising would become less a means of convincing someone to purchase something, and more a means of presenting them with what algorithms already knew they’d need.
Since publishing the essay, that very basic prediction has come to pass. Facebook and Google — both of whom have business models that rely on doing exactly what I outlined above — have grown significantly. Most of that growth has come as of result of ad dollars pouring from traditional advertising avenues — TV, radio, billboards — back into their pockets.
I made another prediction in the essay, however, that hasn’t aged as well. I wrote:
The perfection of data will, eventually, give rise to a world in which every consumer can be paired up with goods that meet his or her biological, rather than consumptive, tendencies. This world will also be devoid of branding, because in a world that relies on perfect information, there will be no need for branded trust.
This was a shaky assertion at best, and my thinking has since evolved. There are two main reasons why.
First, “perfect information,” an idea I truthfully made almost no effort to flesh out clearly in that essay, is a genuine impossibility. Second, because…