A few thoughts for Creatives about Data. Hey wait, come back!

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Creatives have a tendency to roll their eyes when they hear the word Data, but it can often uncover truths that lead to unexpected places, writes the CCO of BBDO New York

Those of us with the word "Creative" in our title often have a natural fight-or-flight reaction to the term "Data."

Bringing up the word Data to a group of Creatives is like turning on the lights in a dive bar. It may bring some things to view, but it sure sucks all the joy out of the room.

I think the issue lies in the term itself. Data is a cold hard word that grew up in the same house as "numbers" and "stats" — the very same words that forced us to run away and crash on the floors of Arts and Philosophy. It’s the stuff of spreadsheets and tax forms. Not ideas. And certainly not why we got into this business. 

But Data, in the sense that it can be used in advertising briefs, isn't a bad thing. It's just misunderstood. Data is insights with crappy branding. 

What if we simply replace the word "Data" with "Insights"?

Start thinking in those terms, and suddenly the light in the metaphorical bar isn’t blinding but guiding, more like a flashlight when you dropped your phone. 

When used well, Data can help uncover truths that instinct hasn’t. Or add credence to ones it has. The kind of truths that lead to pivotal, often counterintuitive approaches and bold ideas.

For example, Mattel and Barbie were able to break from a 56-year-old advertising conceit by using data that revealed — despite loving playing with her growing up — 40% of Millennial mothers weren’t considering buying Barbie for their own daughters and questioned whether she was the right role model.

Through this piece of data, BBDO San Francisco and Mattel realized they didn’t have a kid issue, they had a mom issue. And suddenly they were advertising dolls to grown-ups. An unconventional approach that helped lead to the first increase in Barbie sales in 13 quarters, as well as a Lion.

Just as important, Data can help quantify these ideas. And trust me, there are few things people in Advertising without the word Creative in their titles like more than the word "quantify." Buying an idea is risky, but there’s safety in numbers. Data makes it far easier for an idea to survive the corporate org chart unscathed because it speaks in terms not of opinion, but facts.

So, even as one who based his whole career path on the premise of never having to use anything above fourth-grade math, I'm suggesting that people in creative departments resist the Pavlovian urge to roll their eyes, and open their ears when Data enters the conversation. Data, when used correctly in the briefing process, can make the work sharper, more surprising, and ultimately, more sellable.

In short, Data doesn't have to be a buzzkill. In fact, it makes a rather good designated driver.  

Greg Hahn is Chief Creative Officer of BBDO New York.



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