I started in this industry the very week, as it happens, that Google launched. It was 1998 and the great digital disruption was underway.
Agencies were already on the back foot, deep in battle with the research companies like Millward Brown, whose pre-testing research was growing ever more popular. It was a method that rewarded ideas based on rational persuasion over more interesting, irrational and emotional ideas that we believed strongly would work better.
Worse still, it was becoming rapidly clear that we were even more woefully unprepared to defend our territory against the next wave of digital insurgents, with their shiny new artillery of tracking tech and metrics. Clients were noticing too – there was an increasing lack of faith and a sharp reduction in the cash usually sent our way from boardrooms up and down the country.
Yes, in a data-driven world, conviction delivered with a smooth tongue in a sharp suit was no longer cutting it. We needed knights in shining armour to gallop in heroic slow motion over the hill to our rescue, tooled up with the data weaponry that proved the superior effectiveness of great creativity.
And, this is why Les Binet and Peter Field are my heroes. They are our unlikely knights in shining armour. Along with Byron Sharp and Daniel Kahneman, they have done as much to give weapons to the foot soldiers within our industry to fight the creative fight as those lauded geniuses who come up with the ideas themselves. Not least because clients find the data a great help in assembling their bids for budget internally – it plays well in the boardroom.
If you don’t know Binet and Field by name, you will be familiar with their work. As Mark Ritson said last year, ‘It’s rare I get through a client meeting or class without at least one quick side journey into their treasure trove of charts and models’. And, if you haven’t read ‘Marketing in the era of accountability’, ‘The Long and the Short of it’ or ‘Effectiveness in Context’, then do – you’ll be much better equipped as a result.
The Guardian said of their work that it’s ‘compulsory reading for all serious scholars of marketing’. In truth, you can’t be taken seriously in this industry unless you have read it.
They say don’t meet your heroes. But at Cannes a couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Les one evening on the Carlton terrace. I was delighted to be able to thank him in person for the heroic work that he’d done with Peter, for the confidence he’d given me – and us more broadly. It being late in the evening, I wanged on for too long, but he was incredibly modest, friendly and gracious enough to humour my request for a selfie – which I’m gutted that my son recently deleted from my phone.
Les and Peter I salute you.