Data is not the enemy of creativity

A debate has been raging on Stripped to its core, in one corner you have creative types pleading for freedom to develop without being sullied by anything as prosaic as data and in the other those that argue creativity is an unaffordable luxury in these austere times when not backed by data.

Russell Parsons

Many of ad-land’s biggest names recently lined up at an event in London to grumble about clients not letting them breathe and take chances.

Typical of the commentators, John Townshend, creative partner at agency Now, said ads are often “over analysed, pasteurised and filtered” at the expense of creativity.

He continued: “The trouble is our process is so intense, with the pressure on clients to hit numbers [that] it is very hard to play when you’ve got nanny over your shoulder telling you not to muck around”.

Townsend and others speaking at the event were making reference to television but the argument that marketing creativity is being stifled by pressure on budgets can also be extended to all channels, DM in particular.

There is pressure on all marketers to show results. Budgets are under pressure and confidence is low, as the most recent Bellwether report demonstrated. Brands in the main know that marketing is a route to revenue generation and are therefore willing to stump up but with a caveat for marketers - prove it can pay.

This doesn’t spell the end of creativity, however. The big idea is not a thing of the past, but it does have to be thought about through a new prism.

The best direct marketing campaigns harness the best in creative thinking, integration and targeting – the recent winner of the “best use of direct marketing” at Marketing Week’s Data Strategy Awards, for example, used what has been seen as limited creative palette in email to develop an imaginative campaign that generated tangible results. Read more here.

The point is this - creativity shouldn’t be a risk, the best direct marketing is as aesthetically pleasing as it is innovative in targeting, timing and use of data. Data isn’t a bar to creativity, it allows a campaign to flourish.

The debate shouldn’t be between data and creativity. It should be about how the two can work together to maximise the effectiveness of any activity.

Readers' comments (6)

  • Using data (what people do) combined with the psychology of people's behaviour (why they do it) should create powerful insight. This in turn should inspire the creative as it will generally speak to a human truth which should make it more powerful and engaging. We should be doing marketing that works both from a talkability and fame aspect but also from a return on marketing investment payback. That's the challenge and that's why it is so exciting to be in the industry where we have access to big data, the ability to test and refine and create content that is timely, relevant an motivating and works!

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  • You've got to do both - but Einstein had it right when he said "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

    Use of data CAN be imaginative and creative, BUT generally there's a cultural disconnect between analysis and experimentation. One seeks to identify and mitigate risk, and one embraces it because fundamentally failure is a pre-requisite to advance and innovate.

    Here we always advise that attempting to take no risks at all is in fact itself a huge risk: the risk of stagnation in a market that is evolving quickly.
    Be Brave!

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  • Great creative ideas only really come alive in the mind of the consumer. To ignore the insights and information that tell us more about these minds is arrogant and foolish.
    As creatives we must be careful not to confuse valuable data with plain meddling which so often has resulted from fear or ignorance.

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  • Agree, Data + Creativity= profitable growth.
    This is what makes marketing so effective. Use logic to sharpen the focus and imagination to innovate and inspire.
    The tragedy is the lack of internal alignment around language and philosophy of the two disciplines is stunting marketers' performance

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  • Of course data analytics goes hand in hand with creativity. The ability now to build a profile that not only covers demographics and lifestyles but can encompass attitudes, aspirations and sentiment (the psychographics) means that the message however it is presented can (and should) reflect those elements of self-view that the consumer aspires to, in order to ensure relevance. I have always maintained (in more than 25 years consulting in database marketing and 5 years of university lecturing on the subject) that the creativity with data is of equal importance to creativity on the page (or screen); when brought together they are greater than the sum of their parts.

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  • Creative data juices! We live in a world where we have to prove to clients what works and what does not work through evaluation and analysis.

    At the front end is the data analysis, segmentation and insight that generates the 'we never knew that' moments that creatives can harness. Not enemies but allies in the same camp.

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