Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign and editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign and editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

Let's hear it for big data - handled with care, it offers award-winning insights

No sooner have we recognised it, lauded it and extolled its virtues, in comes the scandal, the exposé and the self-flagellation. Big data is in the dock, and it's not looking its best.

Only last week, as the details of the Government’s eavesdropping habits through Prism continued to emerge, Facebook revealed that "a bug" had allowed the confidential information of some of its users to be displayed to their wider network. It transpired that "approximately six million" Facebook users had e-mail addresses or telephone numbers published – equivalent to leaking the personal details of more than the entire population of Norway.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I wonder what the guys at dunnhumby think about the negative press data is getting right now. For years, the specialist has handled hundreds of millions of data sources for retail giants like Tesco, and provided invaluable consumer insights.

There were some great examples in Cannes that served as a timely reminder of what big data can bring to the party, when applied intelligently. Among my favourites was a bronze Cyber Lion-winning campaign by Åkestam Holst called "Train Switch".

To promote Sweden’s most punctual public transport, Swebus, it introduced a clever discount system. This involved monitoring the ten biggest train stations in Sweden. When a train was late, the Train Switch app generated a discount ticket. Each minute of a delay equalled a 1 per cent discount to the ticket price.

'Some great examples in Cannes served as a timely reminder of what big data can bring to the party'

If a train was ten minutes late, passengers got a 10 per cent discount on Swebus, and if a train was cancelled, the service was free. Simple and effective.

Closer to home, Mark Creighton’s Mindshare walked away with a gold Lion for an adaptive marketing campaign for Kleenex. By taking slow-moving data on historical flu outbreaks, sourced from the NHS, and mixing it with fast-moving data garnered from Google keywords such as "flu remedy", the agency was able to target spend by region in real time – meaning Kleenex ads ran only where there was a flu outbreak.

When it comes to effectively harnessing data, we are still only at the start of the journey, making the publication of the IPA’s report on the impact of big data rather timely.