Simon Peel, The Global Media Director of Adidas, recently gave a talk at EFF Week, a conference focused on evidence-based marketing and hosted by EFF Works. The full video is below. Grab a coffee and watch it, then read the rest.

He explores a lot of ground in his 17 minutes. The coverage of Simon’s presentation has often included a slant towards digital as being a “mistake”. We see the mistake being, in their quest to improve, they misaligned what they were measuring with what was driving results. Marketing is inundated with new tech, but in the rush to measure, quantify and analyse everything, we must still leave room for the unknown. The thing that cannot be measured in metrics.

The magic of the big idea must not be suffocated by the logic of data.

Numbers, after all, are practical. Practical makes sense. It’s economical and efficient and does what the data says needs to be done. Shortest distance between two points. Simplest explanation is often the right one. Ask a question, get the answer, do the job and move on to the next thing. etc etc etc. Parse the info, sift through the data, filter out the irrelevant and make the numbers dance to the tune of the perfect, the only, solution.

Magic, on the other hand, is messy. If it has rhyme or reason it’s buried deep and out of sight. It’s silly, unexpected and extravagant. Magic is memorable, and it puts on a spectacle. The secret is in the undefinable. We can attempt to rationalise it, but it’s very Schrodinger-esque. You may end up killing whatever you count. What we cannot quantify, we measure by proxy, and risk losing sight of what really matters.

Each has a place and time to shine, and the best results make a cocktail of the two. Both must be given their due. This is advertising after all, where stories are told in the service of numbers, and it’s our job not to play favourites, but to wed them. Marketing, after all, in its wonderful synthesis of magic and science, must ultimately serve a purpose. When that purpose is defined in digits, it’s easy to lose sight of how important the role magic plays in fulfilling it. 

Measure what matters, but never forget that sometimes what matters most cannot be measured at all.