Is data killing creativity?

The CEO of Omnicom Digital examines the right brain/left brain arguments from each side

Data is everything, creativity is dead. Creativity is paramount, data is a distraction. Both sides of the argument are valid. Neither is true.

As the industry converges at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, I am sure there will be a lot of noise about how ad tech is taking over the festival and that the creativity the event is supposed to celebrate is being drowned out by talk of algorithms and artificial intelligence and data. I have observed first-hand the growing presence of technology firms at advertising’s most coveted annual gathering. Their prominence within the creative community can be seen, heard, felt and floated on the French Riviera.

Are charts and algorithms at war with creativity?  I hope not.

As advertising comes to rely more on technology, we are forced to reconsider what constitutes creative quality. I asked a few of our data specialists and defenders of creativity to share their unique right brain/left brain perspectives on the great data versus creativity debate.

Here is what they had to say …


Dianne Wilkins
Chief Executive Officer
Critical Mass

For marketers, nothing could better define both the essence and preeminence of creativity than empathy. Put another way, creativity and empathy are linked. They both anticipate the needs and experiences of customers. We all recognize the dizzying pace of technological change and changing customer behaviors —ubiquitous challenges and opportunities. But behavioral measurement shouldn’t lull us away from using the creative process to intuit and proactively experience what customers will experience and vice versa. Data underpins everything, but meaningful success will come to those who can augment data with creativity to empathize with the customer.

Chris Thomas
CEO, BBDO The Americas
Chairman, Proximity Worldwide

The recent North American Effie awards were a reminder of how creativity is an economic multiplier for our clients. Campaigns were being lauded for their ability to deliver returns on investment of anywhere between four and forty. Behavioral insight has always been the start point for great creative work that makes people think or feel differently about a brand. And then act. Now we have access to rich, observable quantified behaviors (to go along with qualitative research) from which we can generate stronger insights. At the same time, we can use data to deploy more effectively our creativity, to deliver the right message at the right time to the right people at the right moment. In this way, data helps unleash the power of creativity as an economic multiplier.

Melanie Johnston
President, DDB Canada — Toronto
Creative Effectiveness Lions Juror

Data helps to identify the precise consumer need at any given moment in the journey, and also prioritizes the most appropriate channel for message delivery. However, every message needs to be framed in a way that makes the consumer pay attention and feel motivated enough to take action. This is where creativity plays a huge role. Creative ideas are needed to stir feelings and propel the consumer along the journey to purchase.  It’s this beautiful partnership of data and creativity that transforms generic needs into specific brand purchases. We call this transformational creativity.


Edmund Choe
Chief Creative Officer of TBWA\Singapore & Southeast Asia
Creative Data Lions Juror

When I speak to creatives, they don’t always see how data could be used in harmony with creativity. The problem is that they find data boring. To them, data is rational. And great creative isn’t. The way we look at data as part of our creative process is an enabler of better insights. If you use all the data points our clients have access to; social data, digital and media data, customer data, and sales data, you can uncover really unique insights about people and culture. And great creative comes from fantastic insights. If you position data this way, it becomes an essential part of driving effective creative in marketing.

Petra Sammer
Partner, Chief Creative Officer, Ketchum Germany
Creative Data Lions Juror

Creatives often don’t like numbers, at times attempting to avoid data, as they once avoided mathematics at school. But today Big Data is essential and everyone in communications needs to take a closer look — a "RISC" — at how they put numbers to work: Data enhances Research, data proves Insights, data informs Strategy and data influences Creative ideas and art work. Take a look at Google Russia´s campaign "Alive Memory" Here, Big Data helped to tell the story of thousands of soldiers who died during WWII. Or watch the beauty of data presented by Halo 5’s "Visualizer."

Scott Hagedorn
Chief Executive Officer
Hearts & Science

The problem isn’t the data. It’s the perception of how it is used that's the problem.  For many, data equals regressive analytics like reporting. Reporting is boring. For some, data and analytics equal predictive and improvisational art forms. What modern creative, tasked with building a multifaceted, engaging brand experience, wouldn’t want to know a bit about how the audience for their art behaves? How they engage with content? How they use the devices that the content is distributed across? What we need to be doing is rebooting brand planning as a qualitative and a quantitative art. That’s the future.

Jonathan Nelson is CEO of Omnicom Digital.

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