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Thinking Creatively about the Value of Data

AcxiomJune 05, 2017

Data people and creative people haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. A few years ago, if you told a seasoned creative type about how integrating consumer data would help optimize campaign performance, you’d probably be met with a glazed stare.

At best, data was seen as something utilitarian and unsexy; at worst, it was distrusted or even feared by an industry that didn’t understand how best to put it to work. That was then.

Slowly but surely, the creative class have been learning what’s possible when they think about data in a different way – as something that doesn’t just multiply a campaign’s reach or help them find the right people at the right time, but something more fundamental to the whole process. Brands – the ones getting this stuff right – have recognized that, yes, data can amplify a campaign, but it’s also integral to crafting the right ideas. And now those brands are being recognized for their work.

Championing data creativity

In June of 2015, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (Mecca for the creative community, but with more rosé) added new data awards to its lineup. Cannes has had its Direct Lions category for years, but this isn’t just about CRM anymore. Just as data isn’t just about direct marketing any more. This is about recognizing data – and the smart things brands are doing with it – as a fundamental driving force in the creative process. Data’s getting the credit it deserves, and we think that’s worth celebrating. As you can imagine, the quality of work competing for the Creative Data Lions has risen during the category’s short history. Let’s take a closer look and see what we can expect when this year’s nominations are announced.

So what does creative data really mean?

The criteria for entry into the category are as follows: “The Creative Data Lions celebrate the interplay of ideas and information. Entries in the Creative Data categories must clearly demonstrate how the execution/campaign was enhanced or driven by the creative use, interpretation, analysis or application of data. The creative use of data must sit at the core of the idea, and the results must be clear and robust.”

So far, so simple. Then there are the subcategories – 11 of them, to be precise, from Creative Data Enhancement and Data Visualization to Use of Real-time Data, Business-to-Business Data Solutions and Data Integration. At Cannes. Incredible.

Redefining what’s data-driven 

The cool thing about the criteria is that everywhere you look, you see data moving upstream in the creative process. Take what the Festival is calling the Data-Driven Targeting category, for example. Entrants are judged on the stuff you’d traditionally expect data-driven targeting to deliver – showing how data contributed to audience selection through programmatic media. And then it opens up to all kinds of creative impact on the audience, the story, the medium and, ultimately, the brand itself – “or provided a key quantitative insight that helped define the target, brand message or channel, allowed for better personalization or increased a brand’s position in the market.”

This reframing of a data-driven capability from an accelerator or amplifier of a message to a critical component of the story itself is an exciting development in data’s perception as a creative as well as an optimization tool.

What does creative data look like?

Sometimes, creative data helps you resurrect a master. Nearly 400 years after the artist’s death, ING and JWT Amsterdam created the 2016 Grand Prix-winning ‘Next Rembrandt’, a portrait painted with data – lots of data. 160,000 fragments from Rembrandt’s 346 paintings were analyzed, and new, original facial features were created based on his use of geometric proportions. Even the depth of the paint on his canvases was analyzed to inform a 3D print of the new subject in 13 layers of paint-based ink – and 148 billion pixels.

Creative data can also draw attention to the ugly side of the beautiful game. In Costa Rica, passions run high whenever there’s a soccer match, and that’s not always a good thing. The Costa Rican Ministry of Women’s Affairs reports that domestic violence complaints spike by as much as 690 percent during soccer matches. The Ministry decided to act and enlisted the help of Teletica, the country’s leading sports broadcaster, as well as the Costa Rican Soccer Federation.

Enlisting the help of J. Walter Thompson Costa Rica, the plan was simple but powerful: make the issue as visible as possible by creating The Second Scoreboard. Throughout televised matches, a running counter of domestic violence complaints runs side by side with the goal counter. Fed by real-time data form 911 calls, the second scoreboard is a grim reminder of a problem formerly hidden from view.

The ultimate goal of the campaign was shared with the fans watching at home and in the stadium: to keep this scoreboard at zero. It was an ambitious goal – and it drove significant results: a 40 percent reduction in complaints was reported after the scoreboard went up. See these campaigns and more here.

What’s changed – and what hasn’t

The Creative Data Lions are helping brands see how looking at the value of data differently can help them beyond traditional campaign planning and execution. The awards showcase a new creative approach that uses data to optimize a campaign’s message as well as the medium – and, ultimately, to create experiences that better connect with audiences.

But some things don’t change. The success of campaigns like these still relies on insights – taking what brands have learned about their customers or audiences to create compelling, relevant and even shocking campaigns. And for now, it still relies on people – creative types, data specialists, marketing professionals and more – to activate that insight in surprising ways.

Saatchi & Saatchi‘s Tom Eslinger, who was a judge on the Cannes Creative Data Innovation 2015 panel, summed it up pretty nicely when he wrote:

“In advertising, this is nothing new: Data has been a part of creating ideas for decades. The difference is that now we can get real-deal insights from devices and social media, and then use tools to sift and sort. I believe that the actual human strategic minds will always be needed to find the various threads to weave together a killer strategy.”

Learn from the best

When the winners are announced in a few weeks, we’ll take a look at our favorites and see what we can learn from the best creative uses of data in marketing and advertising. Don’t miss the postmortem.