There is something about data’s ‘debut’ in Cannes this year that is unsettling Oliver Pink, but he can’t decide which something.
The only certainty offered by commentators on the future of advertising these days is the enduring importance of creativity. Nothing lives without a really beautiful, superb, joyous creative idea. That’s why we all gather in the south of France every June, after all. To celebrate the creatives, those wonderful special, gifted folk.
Data, though, is a somewhat less glamorous affair.
Odious, villainous data. It rang the death knell for ‘The Golden Age of Advertising’, you know. Drowned it in a tsunami of insight-driven campaigns which are not only referential but also achingly dull. Kept June Whitfield and Michael Parkinson – those trusted treasures – on the telly, gently reminding us that life assurance is a bloody good idea. Murdered real creativity to pacify procurement. Paved paradise to put up a server room.
So what the hell, I imagine many indignant creatives to be asking, is data doing at the Cannes Festival of Creativity? “Aren’t they busy with some trade show in the ExCel Centre?”
This leads me to the first unsettling thought I had about data’s debut in Cannes this year. There’s a tragic image, isn’t there? Of the data heads, lily-white in khaki shorts and a sun visor hiding sheepishly in the shade. Or fumbling their way around the Palais frowning at Google Maps; while the creatives drape themselves on lounge chairs and each other, pink shirt sleeves rolled up and top buttons undone.
Worse, I worry it will be all-out war. The two are pitted against each other as a matter of course, by magazines, clients and industry stalwarts. Things got so bad by the turn of the century that Sir Martin Sorrell had no choice but to separate them into different buildings and P&L margins.
Are they going to be like the middle-class divorced couple forced to sit together at little Hugo’s nativity play? “You need us more than we need you,” the data head whispers to the creative, menacingly, as one of the wise men brandishes a gift of gold. “The world has moved on. We’re not your shackles, we’re your lifeline.”
“Being creative,” agreed a smart-arse student who once challenged the late, great Winston Fletcher, “is easy-peasey. Any fool can have new ideas. What is difficult is to have great ideas.”
The uncomfortable truth for both parties is that while nothing may indeed exist without a great creative idea, what makes it great is the understanding of what is turning people on and why it will resonate. Data and insights may be seen to be really uncool. Creativity and ideas may be seen to be really cool. Mostly, though, the two are mutually and irritably dependent on each other.
Perhaps most unsettling, then, is Cannes Lions’ decision to add data as the only new, full, solitary category in the 2015 awards.
Proponents argue that with the Croisette now dominated by tech companies and programmatic gurus, why shouldn't data have a seat at the awards table? To me, however, it seems either incompetently late or totally unnecessary.
As it is, opines Ad Age, the festival walks the line between potential new categories, and complaints from festival-goers that there are already too many. What value can a data category really bring in a world where campaigns are broadly rubbish unless they are founded upon solid insight?
Data’s role in creativity is already acknowledged at Cannes – but as a criterion, rather than a category.
Look back – if you will – to last year’s Grand Prix winners. Honda’s Ayrton Senna 1989 campaign didn’t just use data, but was born out of it. Coca-Cola in Peru found that the country sat at the bottom of worldwide happiness charts and promptly launched Happy ID, scooping the top media prize. V/Line’s Guilt Trips, earned McCann Melbourne explicit praise by the jury for “insight that was so fresh and so universal”.
Unsettling also then is the danger of the category becoming little more than a Trojan horse for advertising agencies toting large scale campaigns – which happen to be based on a decent insight – to get an easy win in a less competitive environment (an injustice direct agencies have bemoaned since time immemorial).
Perhaps it’s time for us all to come clean. Data has long been crucial to Cannes success. And there’s a wafer-thin possibility any of this will unsettle me at all. I’ll look on with glee at the data heads and the creatives, sweating out rosé under the hot sun, battle-locked in this new category which seems to them a complete contradiction in terms. The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity Data Award. On whose mantle will that sit, I wonder?
And will they deserve it?
Oliver Pink writes about advertising and marketing