The further away from a buying situation an advert is the better the idea has to be. Why? Because, as a consumer, the further away you are, mentally and physically, the more you rely on having to remember the advertising. In other words, the more you rely on the advertising to do its job.
It's no surprise then, that the closer to a buying occasion you get, the less need there is for a big idea. The advertising doesn't need to try as hard to be remembered, because it's right there at the point of purchase.
Data, combined with digital mediums, have the ability to create or intercept said buying occasions. And because there are a limited amount of occasions available (the market size), the use of data essentially helps brands steal the occasions (and customers) from competitors.
This new ability to reach potential buyers at exactly the right moment with the right (relevant) message, may change how we advertise forever.
A suit friend of mine was telling me about working on the Boots account and how, some 5 years ago, they used data to push an offer on hair dye to their customers based on when the customer had last bought the dye.
They made the hair dye brand mentally available at the time when the consumer needed it, and using an online shopping cart, even made it physically available, too.
Data created a buying occasion. It reached potential buyers at exactly the point in time where they were ripe for the picking, and then made it easy to buy.
Data totally abrogated the need for that hair dye brand to create a great mass-marketed idea that would have aimed to get stuck in people's minds.
Simply put: Data means that you no longer have to rely on someone remembering your message in the future (with an idea), because you'll be right there, in the future, to deliver it.
And creating or intercepting buying occasions isn't the only way data is putting the 'big idea' on life support.
I've noticed a growing belief that personalisation works in place of an idea. Why 'try' and engage your audience with creativity, if you're assured you can engage them by knowing their name and a few choice details about their behaviour.
That's what the data-evangelists have been pedalling to our clients, anyway. Scarily, if you follow that line of thinking then, eventually, clients will replace agencies with data machines - robots.
Is data the death of the idea? The evidence above appears pretty damning. But, you've only heard data's side of the story. Save your judgement until part 2; the counterpoint to this argument, where the 'idea' gets its chance to defend itself.