Given the natural tension between art and science, perhaps it’s little wonder that the best examples of creativity come from their successful fusion to create something both magical and logical. But, within advertising, you could be forgiven for thinking that this friction has recently become a suppurating sore for some, with perhaps deliberately provocative and contradictory views from either sections of the art and science lobby.
Ad industry grandees have scoffed at the rise of the upstart “data monkeys”, while simultaneously clinging onto the supremacy of the “Big Idea”. On the opposite side of the camp, some digital evangelists are insistent that data offers us some sort of universal salvation and that it should be in charge of not just running our lives, but also the world. They have come up with hifalutin’ concepts around big data, promoting data scientists as the new rock stars and, in many cases, relegating those that don’t jump on this particular bandwagon to being relics of the past.
Neither of these positions has really helped further the debate. On both sides of the argument, there is an element of self-interest with their assertions - and the result has been an impasse and a lot of heat and not a lot of light. But, in truth, creativity and data are not - and never have been - adversaries. Yet, when people talk about uniting them, it often feels highly aspirational and abstract, like we have reached some sort of woolly compromise. An unhappy impasse that broadly mollifies both sides of a debate that has become increasingly wearisome, but doesn’t really provide a satisfactory answer to how data and creativity should work together.
This is sometimes encapsulated in phrases such as “data-driven creativity”, which I don’t think is an appropriate resolution to a situation that is much more sophisticated and nuanced. This would suggest that data has the whip hand - something that would no doubt get creatives’ backs up. It also neglects various other uses of data that are not simply about populating a brief for creative types to ponder over. And this is why Wunderman has chosen to eschew such language.
While we prefer to think of data as providing inspiration to the creative process, at its heart, data helps us understand and connect to the individual. This helps inform so much more than creative ideas - for example, who to target, when and in what channels - ultimately empowering us to make the best decisions for the business and the individual consumer.
So, if we at Wunderman are to live our proposition, “creatively-driven, data-inspired,” what does this entail for the data experts in our ranks? For me, this is about moulding data from its inert state to a level where it is telling us something significant, useful and, dare I say, insightful, about human behaviour and psychology, or enabling us to reach individuals in relevant and innovative ways. There is undoubtedly a creative process allied to the science and it’s this marriage that could define who succeeds and fails in today’s industry.
As a case in point, a campaign for The Economist triumphed at Cannes and the DMA Awards by successfully fusing data and creativity to deliver bespoke, near real-time content to intellectually-curious readers and nudge them to subscribe. Creative was highly impactful, demonstrating a clear understanding of the audience. Yet, this was greatly enhanced through intelligent targeting, optimisation and contextually linking ads to articles with directly-related content.
Picking up gongs is great. But we should never forget what we, as agencies, are really here to do - solve our clients’ business problems. Similarly, Wunderman’s Shell Pump Challenge was born from the behavioural human insight (obtained from data) that over a third of drivers, consciously or sub-consciously, turn the mundane chore of filling up with fuel into a game to fill their tank to an exact price point. Yet, more often than not, they missed the exact amount.
This relatable human insight was the founding inspiration for us to develop a campaign that rewarded customers for hitting the round price point they always aimed for, but gamifying the process in order to get them to aim a bit higher. It was a powerful combination of data, human psychology and nudge economics and proved to be the most successful Shell Drivers Club campaign to date.
As examples of humanising data to spur both the strategy and the creative, then surely there’s something in these successful marriages of data and creativity for even the most trenchant creatives and data obsessives to celebrate?