07 Jun Data and Creativity

The hard-working woman arrived at her local grocer with a week’s pay in her purse, to buy a chicken for Sunday supper. It was the end of the week for the butcher too, and he was down to his last chicken. When he put the chicken on the scale, the woman thought for a moment and asked him for a larger chicken. So he sloshed the chicken around in water until it was full and put it back on the scale, proudly announcing that this chicken was much heavier. The woman thought again and asked for both chickens.

WARC editor Colin Grimshaw writes about the tension between data and creativity in his post about the debate exposed by the entries into the 2015 ADMAP essay contest, “Does Big Data Inspire or Hinder Creative Thinking?”

Unfortunately creativity and data can be used to deceive. But not always.

Data can reveal the value of a product or brand that even the manufacturer is unaware of. For example, after multiple agencies unsuccessfully competed to raise the “motivation score” for a new baby product campaign, I asked for a different cross tab of the research results to pull out the perceptions of the most discerning customer, new mothers, revealing an insight that increased the “motivation score” of the new advertising.

Creativity moves people. It can move people in ways the creators didn’t expect. In “Art & Copy”, Nike’s Liz Dolan shares the unanticipated letters from consumers who claimed the “Just Do It” campaign inspired them.  Not just to get more exercise but to overcome the procrastination inhibiting them from self-improvement on a much grander scale.

Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? The data or the creativity? In both of the above cases the creativity came first. The data was generated by the response to the content. The data was “opt in” or voluntarily shared. And it was in context.

That’s why my vote is for creativity to come first. The data is more meaningful and actionable. Frankly, based on my experience and observations, starting with data dumbs down creativity. From the early days of copy testing to today’s “KPI’s”,  creativity has become weighed down and distracted by data. I argued this point in the essay, “A Creativity Renaissance,” which made it to the short list, but didn’t win the contest. (You have to be a WARC subscriber to see my published essay, sorry, but those were the rules when I entered.)

More important than the chicken and egg debate over data and creativity, the marketing industry needs to face the elephant in the room – the myth of scale.

The media marketplace is just like the grocer trying to sell one chicken over and over again to a customer who needs much more. The scale has become dumber and dumber over the last 30 years I’ve been in the business. When I started in the business, reach was the important metric to predict success. Awareness was important, but conversion from awareness to loyal customer was more important to sustainable growth.

But that was when you could reach 30% of the target with $5 to 10 Million. Today that’s not possible at budgets 10 times that. So we buy impressions (no matter how many are the same viewer over and over again). And who spends the money on research to measure awareness, aided or unaided, let alone customer loyalty?

To improve marketing results and the impact of creativity in business, in general, let’s start by recalibrating the scale based on what is mathematically possible in today’s media landscape. And let’s bring all the stakeholders together – including the audience – to explore what really matters.  No one company or silo has the silver bullet. We all need to come together to reset the defaults and re-define success.