“We are a bit of a strange animal... our founder [Lester Wunderman] founded it to create a new form of communication with customers,” said Morel in a meandering yet informative interview at Cannes. “He once said in an MIT speech, 'Why shouldn't we involve the customer in everything we do? Have a dialogue instead of a one-way broadcast?'"
Of course in those days, two-way communication with customers involved catalogues, coupons and a 1-800 number. “That was the stuff of interactive back then,” he said. “Of course once you engage in dialogue with customers, you measure the result and intensity of response and you start accumulating data and this continues for every new channel that comes about.”
Incidentally, Wunderman, who turns 94 in a few days, still goes to work every day, added Morel, who has a tendency to segue into tangential anecdotes mid-sentence.
Those roots have helped make Wunderman one of the world's leading agencies, Morel resumed. “Our business has essentially doubled in the past five years. Now we're above a billion in revenue right now. In the WPP annual report, page 35, we are one of the eight companies above a billion.”
About a quarter of that revenue is “hard-core data” and about 50 per cent traditional CRM retention communications.
“We're really just continuing to do the same thing, we're just into data in a bigger way and we are now a large aggregator and owner of first-, second- and third-party data,” he said adding that after 20 years at Cannes, this was the first in which he'd heard a creative talk about data and the need for it.
But while everyone, every client, owns data, it is, he continued, a real challenge to take data and make it creative. “The sweet spot is when planning, data and creativity merge into meaningful insight.”
Netflix built its hit series House of Cards entirely on data instead of insisting on the costly test-pilot most networks do, said Morel referencing Kevin Spacey's speech at the Edinburgh TV Festival. “It was the largest investment they had ever done. They looked at their data and they found that The West Wing was one of the most downloaded shows on Netflix. So they knew they had a large population in love with political drama, and it turns out they also like Kevin Spacey, and that was it.”
Similarly, brands across the board, not just large enterprise clients, are increasingly making data-based decisions. “Asia's getting more and more brands like Colgate, Unilever, Microsoft and Ford who have the data to just go ahead and not waste time.”
It's also interesting to note, Morel added, that a large portion of the agency's revenue stems from healthcare and banking clients. “At the recent CES or Mobile World Expo you'll see the most interested sectors are banking and healthcare,” he said.
The reason behind this, he believes, is the knowledge that an aging population, supported by a much smaller younger generation, will need technology to afford healthcare. “In banking, with more than 2.5 billion phones in Asia, half of them smartphones... and ownership of checking accounts is around 2 billion... if you were a banker what would you do? You'd put checking accounts in mobile and find new ways of connecting with customers.”
Incidentally, he said, recommendation engines based on past-purchase behaviour used to be cool but are now rather outdated.
“The coolest thing we can do in data is... let's say you're looking to buy a car. And you start searching and you have no real idea in mind. You look at cars, you type a few keywords and you start doing a search for two-seater cars. A recommendation engine would recall that you have only ever bought big SUVs and conclude, he's not really in the market, he's just browsing to see pretty cars, and it would keep showing you large SUV models in ads.
“However, a smart way to use data is to realise that the user is older, his two kids have grown, and he doesn't need a large car anymore. He wants a fun car. We're smart enough to figure this out and show him Jaguars, not SUVs."