Every year the same thing happens in the park outside my house. People, myself included, take a tiny shortcut and kill the grass, leaving dirty shoes and a path of mud that leads to the metro station. Park authorities re-sow the grass, and yet, we still take the shortcut. Is the solution to create a permanent gravel path instead of the unbroken grass field, as originally intended by the park architect? An architect friend suggested that the best way to design parks was to simply open the space, and sow grass all over it. Visitors would walk the empty space, and soon enough the natural patterns would emerge. Trails get placed where users actually want them.

In marketing and advertising we are always confronted with dilemmas of how to offer and present relevant products and information that fit well with what customers really want. Technology is making it easier to track and measure users and, like in the park example; see what footsteps they actually take. This is generally a good thing. The more we know, the better we can tailor communication, design, and supply.

For advertisers the opportunities are immense. Tracking and measuring how people react to campaigns, and understanding what works and what doesn’t is of paramount importance. Having clear insights on what makes people tick will certainly please our clients and make us money. It can inspire creativity and focus resources and energy on the right thing at the right time. But it can also have a downside.

Doing everything right can be wrong, or at the very least, very boring. Lets remember the park, it is not perfect or optimized, it is “wrong,” and users keep proving this by tearing an optimized muddy route over and over. It is beautiful though, the symmetry of its rows of chestnuts and gravel footpaths, the balance of grass and flowers, of trees and stone.

As advertisers we must remember that even creativity based on the right data can be lame, people react to real emotions, and in measuring these, technology might always fall short. It is not possible to be relevant and please everyone. A big part of it is about finding balance and laying your own path. No measurements, no data, just the conviction that it is the way you want to go. At the end of the day if it is right for you it might be worth it to prove the data wrong.

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