Cannes 2015: What comes first: the human or the algorithm?

Simon Hobbs, CEO, Forward Worldwide

Way back in 1995 the start of our creative journey was clear – the Editor and/or Creative Director (let’s call these humans) had a hunch and came up with a creative idea and we all kind of ran with it. At the start of the digital age, however, the humans began to use analytics and customer insights to help refine and adjust their hunch to ensure that it was something consumers found entertained, rewarded, engaged, or quite frankly sold to them in the right way.

Then things got a bit tricky in 2010 when Kenneth Cukier of The Economist published the most over-used phrase in marketing: “big data”. Big data has enabled us humans to understand everything possible about consumers as well as serve up data-driven content to them based on their behaviour. The abundance of data available to us ensures that we truly understand the needs of our consumers. Publishers such as Facebook and Flipbook are now using only data to create behavioural-based algorithms to push messages and content to consumers – some might say intelligent content.

In our opinion, however, intelligent content is not just about data or complex algorithms. To offer truly intelligent content we need those humans – skilled, creative, analytical humans – as well as tools and data sets to enable us to reach the right consumer, at the right time, with the right message. And we are not the only ones. The Apple News App has recently announced that they are recruiting for “Detail-oriented journalists with an obsession for great content and mobile news delivery. They will have great instincts for breaking news, but be equally able to recognise original, compelling stories unlikely to be identified by algorithms.”

So to answer the question: what comes first? The answer is humans. Creative and intelligent humans who use data to outsmart the algorithms.



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