Russell Davies: Data's crucial. But can we entertain the masses with it?

How was your summer? Good? Mine was terrific.

Russell Davies
Russell Davies

There were two highlights for me. One was playing the first cricket match I've played for, literally, 30 years. It turns out I'm a relatively useful spinner, as long as the batsman is looking the other way.

The second highlight was when one of my fellow cricketers suddenly blurted out a bit of jargon he'd been thinking about and I thought: Ha! That's my first column back sorted. What a splendid way to get back on my horse.

The man in question is called Richard Ayers. He has a long history in journalism, media and digital gubbins, and he's currently the head of digital for Manchester City FC. His genius piece of jargon - "datatainment". Ladies and gentlemen - datatainment. It's silly, vacuous, mostly meaningless and absolutely perfect. Once you've heard it, you'll never forget it and, before long - you mark my words - you'll be being offered consultancy about it and expensive conferences to discuss it.

It's not just the memorable coinage that makes it so useful. It's the lightening effect of the "tainment" half of it. Suddenly, data gets to be as trivial and fun and joyous as all the most popular bits of the internet and communications.

DataViz is great, I believe in being good at it, but, lots of the time, in marketing land, just visualising the data isn't enough. Making data visible, clear and understandable is, of course, brilliant, but if you're not interested in the underlying story, you're not going to pay attention. It's like typography - a real, delicate, important skill, but more useful and communicative if you're interested in the words that are being set.

Data journalism is perhaps the next layer up, the place where an explicit editorial point of view gets added, where the data is being used to tell a particular story, to inform, engage and, possibly, to persuade.

And then you get to our little world, where we're trying to get people interested in something to which they may be resistant. This is where marketing gets harder than design, because we need to do more than just deliver something useful. We need to entertain.

There was a time, of course, when we only entertained, because utility via an ad is hard. And I imagine we'll have a phase of slightly dull utility when every brand tries to deliver marketing through services.

But we need to remember that the social contract we've signed with consumers demands that, sometimes, we entertain them - that, sometimes, we should add cultural value as well as function. And one of the skills we'll need to learn will be how to do this with data.

Richard's blog ( will give you some possible examples. And remember the jargon - datatainment.