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It's time to rebrand data for the creative community

11 Jun 2019  |  Andy Fairclough 
It's time to rebrand data for the creative community

Data is often viewed purely as a statistical concept, writes Andy Fairclough - when what it needs is an emotional lens

It is an interesting time for the role of data in the creative world of advertising. It feels like we are reaching a tipping point in how it is viewed, used and talk about it.

Recently, Iris’ Beth Carroll laid down the gauntlet to media agencies and challenged them in Campaign: “Media agencies must collaborate more with creative shops”, and together need to think about long term goals and outcomes. As a media insight person, in my experience this is very much in the modern media agency mind-set; the best are inherently strategic and creative in their approach to using media to solve business challenges.

A creative path to a campaign or consumer problem using data will always be more customer centric and negate the risk being of being caught in an ad-land echo chamber. But we need to retain the emotional cues that create brand loyalty, but use insight from beyond a set of conversion rates to show us what makes people tick.

The problem is, ‘data’ has been miss-sold by the ad industry - it needs a rebrand. Much like climate change debate, we view data purely as a statistical concept, but it needs to have an emotional and human lens to be understood by the creatively minded folk who make up our industry. Data needs humanising.

The best modern campaigns have a deep understanding of human behaviour and use data. Look at the most recent great campaign in my view; Nike’s ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’. This was a truly modern example of research into who their audience are, and what they like.

It unpicked the niche tribes of Londoners based on their musical, sporting, and cultural touchstones and placed them into the ad, like local rapper Giggs asking “what’s wrong with Peckham”. Planned and executed perfectly, it demonstrated a genuine understanding of Nike’s customer base in the city.

The creative resonated because it was emotional and had human truths the audience could connect with; this wasn’t diminished by ‘data’ but rather powered by it and couldn’t have happened without it. Having worked with Adidas in a previous life, I know that customer-centricity is at the heart of winning the key city battlegrounds in this industry.

WPP’s CEO Mark Read recently spoke at the ISBA’s Annual Conference where he said “We need to invest more in creativity. We’ve disappeared down the rabbit-hole of optimization, but a fantastic idea can multiply a client’s budget by three to five times.”

Optimisation is of course important, but it shouldn’t be the strategy. Digital metrics should be used to identify high value audiences that are buying or enjoying your creative, and for the occasional tweak to creative. We shouldn’t be measuring performance through clicks, instead metrics that align with the brand’s purpose and goals. Don’t get bogged down by tracking everything – no one in the board room has time to look at all of the data. It will have a negative impact overall and won’t help a campaign to become a success.

Even what appear to be random creative ideas plucked from thin air are usually founded on solid insights"

Accenture Interactive recently acquired Droga5, an experience and strategic thinking agency combining with a creative one, shows the way the industry is moving. In a way we’re going full circle to the dawn of Mad Men in media and creative working together on the strategic piece; only this time with data to evidence we’re doing and we did the right thing.

The acquisition of Acxiom by my agency’s parent company IPG last year is a similar story. Michael Roth stated last week in an announcement: “Going forward, we see Acxiom adding tremendous opportunity for our creative assets, as well, allowing for personalized, storytelling, done globally and at scale for our clients”. This is huge as it shows companies are walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

However, one of the biggest fears amongst creatives is that their hallowed ‘creative instinct’ will be removed by a wholly data driven media world. This is where gut feel comes into play, and controversially for a ‘data person,’ I think it has a key role in the process. As Tom Goodwin recently tweeted “Gut feel is the miracle that is processing trillions of data points without us realizing”.

Gut feel in this case is intuition (learned through experience), as opposed to instinct (reactionary and without evidence); our gut can lead us to an idea or hypothesis, but the path to the solution needs rigour in order to stay true to what audiences actually want. Evidence trumps opinion; our ego can be the enemy if it goes unchecked. Just look at the Pepsi ‘Live For Now’ ad with Kendall Jenner for an idea that took the wrong path to a creative solution by existing in an echo chamber.

Even what appear to be random creative ideas plucked from thin air are usually founded on solid insights – take the example of Three’s Holiday Spam campaign which was inspired by the ‘holiday Insta brag.’ Three measured mobile data, which showed customers abroad used 71 times the average amount of data to post pics. They created a new offer around unlimited data when customers travel to Europe which created business value in addition to brand equity. It worked because of the data not in spite of it.

We need to solve problems with insights that spark ideas, which keep us honest to what audiences want, and actually add value rather than distract. And we need people to provide the creative insights from data, not just technology.
Creative agencies – consider the challenge accepted.

Andy Fairclough is Social Strategy Director at Reprise

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