All the talk lately about blue ties caused a sudden memory recall last night. When I was running the Ogilvy & Mather Direct office in Sydney we were a bit of a lightening rod for all manner of entrepreneurs, as we were the biggest DM agency in town. We’d used that old skill called ‘content marketing’ to build our profile – publishing newsletters, case studies and opinions and were regularly featured in trade media.

On this particular day I had an apppointment in my diary that my PA had set-up. It was a new business meeting at our office with a man who had an idea and was looking for a JV partner. I hadn’t spoken to him, as I trusted my PA’s instincts.

My Creative Director and I were called to reception to meet this entrepreneur. As you know, first impressions usually count and this one was not really adding up. But we invited him into our Board room. He took the seat nearest the door with his back to the door. We sat opposite.

He was dressed in clothes that hadn’t been ironed – and they were meant to be. Nothing matched and he had a large blue tie, with an oversize knot and no top button on his shirt. Peering from beneath his collar were some interesting tattoos. There were also some on his fingers and upon closer inspection on his wrists and I suspect the rest of his body as well.

But these were not ordinary tattoos, like the alleged fashion statements of today. No folks, these were tattoos gained while one is incarcerated at Her Majesty’s leisure in a maximum security prison.


So it was with nervous discomfort that my CD and I sat listening to our guest. He had a big idea, though probably not one that my old boss David Ogilvy of ‘big ideas’ fame, would have approved.

He started to explain that he’d had time to think recently while he’d been ‘detained’ and he had a way to make lots of money with us. At this point my wily CD feigned a sudden urge to go to the loo and ran from the room, never to return. So I was stuck with the entrepreneur between the door and me, which made it difficult for me to end the meeting quickly. I had to hear him out.

His big idea was simple. A bunch of people would get on the phones and using the White Pages would call people at their homes. These um ‘telemarketers’ would pretend they were conducting a survey and ask people questions about different topics like holidays, cigarette brands, cars and stuff they used or liked.  

Have I got a deal for you...

Have I got a deal for you…

The unsuspecting punters would be told their answers were confidential, but in fact they would be entered into a personalised database. Once we had built up a list of thousands of names we could sell the list to companies who sold products linked to the data.

This was a BIG DATA idea – unfortunately it was also illegal – ironically this was something lost on my new friend. He kept insisting it was legitimate and all we had to do was chip in the money to fund the telemarketers and then sell the lists. We could go 50:50 on the profits as it was his big idea. He also had some mates who could make the calls – I dared not ask.  

wanna buy some used data??

wanna buy some used data??

Eventually I agreed we’d consider it and get back to him, as it was the only way to ensure my safe passage from the room. And of course I never did get back to him, but was a tad nervous getting into my car in the underground car park late at night for the next month.

This reminded me of some of the BIG DATA DEALS being spruiked around the planet at the moment. All manner of software solutions and experts to help you use your data to get your customers to engage with you more. Why is it that nobody wants to sell anything in the digital world? All they want to do is get engaged, or measure sentiment, or increase “Likes”?

The fact I’m struggling with, is that most organisations don’t even have functional, current databases, let alone relational databases that may reveal insights about customer purchasing habits. In my polling of seminar audiences of marketing executives and business owners, less than 10% are satisfied with their current databases, or the information they glean from them.

They don’t have time for small data, let alone BIG DATA.

I’m off to fix some data problems for our industry associations. I’ve received about 7 pieces of mail over the last 10 days promoting events that feature presentations on BIG DATA. They are obviously having problems with their small data, as I know I don’t cross-dress and I haven’t changed my name to Monique. So for the umpteenth time Ms Monique Auld and Ms Malcolm Auld, will return to sender with the correct details and see what happens.


It really is surprising how many marketers forget, it’s the small data stuff that does the BIG DAMAGE to your brand.