“The payback interval for a Mercedes ad is 10-15 years,” a highly successful creative director once explained to me, “that’s the average length of time from when a person first becomes interested in the brand to when they might be able to afford one.” Such thinking is clearly at odds with the emerging practices of data-driven marketing which set ad attribution windows in days or weeks rather than years.  The idea that data and digital have killed advertising – and, with it, creativity and long-term thinking, was on display at Advertising Week in NYC which opened with a funeral for advertising, under the hashtag #RIPadvertising.

Charlotte Beers put it this way: “today, we embrace ever smaller ideas because they’re analyzable and predictable.”

Has “big data” killed the “big idea” in marketing? For every “Man your man could smell like” viral campaign that generates awareness, we’re exposed countless bottom-of-the funnel promotions whose only motivation is that we were observed on a travel or retail site a few days ago. These tactics move the revenue needle, so they get the resources in the age of analytics. Yet, as we’re forced to sit through more skip-proof prerolls, one wonders about their lasting effects.

Part of the problem is that, if we really want to analyze long-term effects of digital advertising on brand equity we have to go back to the dawn of “web 2.0” – see how dated that sounds? – to see if any of the metrics we were able to gather about new forms of brand exposure since that time can be correlated with any relevant factors today.  But today’s digital branding media – Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – are still relatively recent phenomena, so there’s no history to mine for clues as to their long-term, top-of-the-funnel effects.  Even if there were, the ability of analytics to accurately isolate specific causal effects over such long time periods remains dubious even in principle. This sends a lot of brands back to more traditional top-down approaches to media and will keep the gap between digital and broadcast mindsets open for a long time.

The Advertising Week funeral ended on an upbeat note: the expired giants of the Mad Men era – Bill Bernback, David Ogilvy, Leo Burnett, and one other I didn’t recognize – were brought back to life with an artless video effect to reveal the casket was empty and the Madison Avenue Gospel Choir sang “Today is a Happy Day” because advertising was still alive after all.

But the question still lingers: will big data ever embrace the long-term value of “big creative?” Or has our collective patience simply worn too thin?