Is data detrimental to creativity?

"Data means more insight, more proof and, therefore, more ability to invest in driving the bigger ideas'
"Data means more insight, more proof and, therefore, more ability to invest in driving the bigger ideas'

The day-to-day work of marketing has become increasingly focused on gathering, processing and interpreting data to gain insights into consumers, their behaviour and the broader market. But is that distracting marketers from the important, more creative aspects of the discipline?

Each month The Forum questions members of The Marketing Society on a hot topic. For more on membership, visit


Dominic Grounsell
Global marketing director

I regularly hear complaints about data and the ‘arithmocracy’ killing creativity, but I disagree. The explosion of data and ad-tech can actually liberate creativity when used properly.

New test-and-learn capabilities enable marketers to try lots of new channels and ideas without having to bet the farm. Improvements in targeting and measurement allow marketers to prove at last the impact of our work, which loosens the purse strings for activity that would previously have been rejected as ‘discretionary’.

For example, if I can target a 60-second brand ad and measure the return, I’ll be able to invest more in that type of activity. Data means more insight, more proof and, therefore, more ability to invest in driving the bigger ideas.

It isn’t about marketing by numbers and abandoning judgement. It’s about data creating an environment where creativity can flourish.


Sally Cowdry
Consumer & retail director

Where data is, in effect, turned into insight about consumers or audiences – and then applied to a good brief – it should benefit creativity. It’s logical that content that is tailored, personalised and relevant as a result of this insight will cut through and have a bigger impact.

For example, our latest GameStore campaign for instant-win games is digitally led and uses on-site and third-party data to target one of six videos to specific users. It’s early days, but so far this is proving very successful. Over the past few years, the digital media landscape has become more fragmented, and the amount of data generated about audiences has grown exponentially – so the opportunity for creative with greater impact has increased.

The question now is whether creative processes and formats have kept pace to fully take advantage of this.


Sarah Speake
Chief marketing officer
Clear Channel

Data gives us insight – and rich data gives us useful insight. For media-owners, useful insight into consumer behaviour, in particular, can shape how our entire estate is built and used, so it’s important to have as much data as possible.

When it comes to creativity, building ideas based on a wealth of insight means the outcome is more likely to be relevant and meaningful to the consumer – which, I believe, the best campaigns always are.

Knowing where to find your audience, what makes them tick and the kind of brand interaction they find valuable may limit the initial scope of creative ideas, but it also means that those remaining are more likely to be effective.

Creativity in advertising is about making magic for the consumer – but how can you know what works for your customers if you don’t know anything about them?


Nick Fox
Founding partner
Atomic London

In the near future, we’ll look back with amusement at how ridiculous this question seemed. We have always known that great creativity is driven by great insight.

It wasn’t so long ago that John Webster, "the greatest TV advertising author of the late 20th century", according to The Guardian, was considered odd for even engaging with consumer groups and using feedback to inform his campaigns. He would have passionately embraced the opportunity to work with more data/better insight.

It is the single greatest exponent we have, and so we should be looking for any way to garner more; simply put, the more we have, the better our insight should be into how consumers think, behave and feel. It is then our role to interpret how this insight can best inform creative work that engages on a deeper level with its audience.

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