Data is good, don’t get me wrong.

Data tells the real story, data reveals the hidden facts, data is the new oil or new gold, depending on which is your preferred precious commodity.

And yet, as we meet clients and talk to them about data, we keep realising that very many of them cannot imagine a world that is data-driven. They cannot fathom that their business will be run on data, and guided by algorithms, not gut feel. That entire marketing departments may become redundant, or will need severe re-training. This scenario is not so distant: Air Asia’s chatbot is doing so well that they plan to shut down their customer contact centre by the end of the year. Even if that is hyperbole, that’s an impending change that will shake the old order.

So why do clients feel the days of data dominance are far away?

Possibly because:

  1. It’s a math or tech thing, which turns many people off, especially marketers
  2. Companies don’t have a data strategy, so there is no internal champion
  3. Their data science team is solving piecemeal problems, on the periphery of organisational transformation, but not revolutionising their entire company
  4. They don’t have data, and hence cannot imagine what data can do

More importantly, as the entire consulting industry tries to sell more data in Malaysia, I think the onus is on VISUALISING THE EFFECTS OF DATA ON BUSINESS.

Make what you do visible, clear and tangible, and then you could have traction.


It’s past 11pm and I’m at my workplace, but not really working. My colleagues work hard, the gentle clicking of their computer keys the only sound in the office, barely audible above the sound of the air conditioning.

I know my colleagues are a very special bunch of people, who care about the company, about doing a good job, about what their names stand for, and perhaps even more importantly, what their names don’t stand for.

I flip through social media, and I see a post on LinkedIn that sets me thinking. Someone says, “Ad agencies are in the Imagination business.” Indeed, we are, though sometimes, regrettably too often, we forget that.  It can feel as if we’re in the business of babysitting adults who behave like kids, or in the business of managing bottom lines against an army of heartless people armed with calculators and honed ruthlessness delivered on Excel spreadsheets. It can feel as if we’re in the “searching for talent” business in a world where talent doesn’t want to be stuck in an office past 11pm, and isn’t sure if it wants to be in the Imagination business, but will maybe give it a try for 3 months and see what happens.

Importantly though, every now and then moments happen, micro-moments that are a perfect trifecta of innovative idea, daring client and magical media, that bring a frisson of self-reflection or surprising entertainment to the world. It’s these moments that make the ad life worth it.

Sometimes your client pats you on the back, or thanks you with a box of chocolates, or your work wins an award. You celebrate for a brief moment that doesn’t compensate for time not spent at home or with friends, and then you get back to the clicking of the keys and the sweet pain of the long distance runner who can’t stop running ’cause she needs the high that the pain gives.

I am not alone, many others in this industry are in the same leaky boat on a perilous sea. So why do we do it?

Because, if you are in the Imagination Business, you are a dreamer. You are imagining a better world for the consumers of your brand. You are imagining your audience laughing, or crying, or being moved. You are imagining connecting with people, and being meaningful, in a world where, by and large, when your work is average, it is tuned out, skipped impatiently within the 6th second, or playing in front of an empty sofa during an ad break. We are truly in the business of Imagining What Can Be, and Not What Is.

The harsh reality can be brutal, but the imagined life is what we live for. And that’s what keeps us going.

Whether it’s 73 year old Sir Martin’s indefatigable Second Coming or the lowly visualiser slaving away on a layout at 2am trying to beat his own boxed-in thinking, they’re both in the Imagination business, imagining a better world, one that loves their ideas…