Was the 2012 election proof of the power of Big Data?
According to an article in Time (and a thousand blogs that linked to it), it was Big Data that drove the Democrats to victory. The party’s vastly superior ground game was organized through a monster database code-named Narwhal.
It was Big Data that drove the spot-on predictions of Nate Silver, the New York Times’ famous and oddly controversial statistician. Neither gut nor vibration could compete with Silver’s cold hard numbers. Big Data also predicted Hurricane Sandy, which when it came ashore a week before voting ended made global warming deniers look awfully foolish.
Big Data was the big story not just because it proved its power to predict, but because it played against the losing party’s decade-long conscious effort to bend reality, exemplified by Romney spokesperson Ron Kaufman, who famously said, “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”
Big Data beat the big lie.
It also supposedly beat TV, as evidenced by the 1% return on investment Karl Rove was able to deliver to his clients from the more than $100 million dollars his Super Pac, American Crossroads, spent, largely on traditional media.
Big Data it has even been suggested beat social media, the perhaps over hyped driver of the previous couple of elections.
This narrative dovetails with a story that’s being told in marketing, the new assault of number-centric CRM and a withering of our collective fascination with social media. The buzz now is around #bigdata, and marketers that don’t sprinkle that hashtag in their tweets during the next year are going to miss a lot of nibbles.
But before we jump, yet again, into marketing by IBM, let’s unpack what just went on during this looooonnnng election season.
The Democrats’ Narwhal didn’t get its data out of the air. It got its data from, among other sources, the social web. And what drove all those tweets and blogs and whatever? At lot of it was created in reaction to all that money liberated by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which birthed the Super Pacs. It seems that, contrary to conventional wisdom, Karl Rove’s dollars did have an impact. A big impact. Unfortunately for him, its big impact was to energize Democrats. Negative ads generated furious tweets. Those tweets created the data collected by Narwhal.
In effect, the Democrats turned the energy around the negative event that was conservative Super Pac advertising to their advantage.
And that at long last leads to our conclusion.
Big Data is important, but events are still where marketers need to keep their focus. What qualifies as an event? Viral videos, ad campaigns, natural disasters or something as simple as a good whitepaper or interesting blog post. These are the energy sources that now power branding. Big Data then becomes a tool, along with social marketing, direct marketing, promotional marketing and merchandising, we apply to direct and maximize this energy.