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With newer technologies that can gather more data more quickly, large stacks of research are ready to provide a foundation for strong strategy and great creative.

But what happens when instead of acting as a GPS, guiding creative teams towards brilliant insights and smart work, data jumps into the driver’s seat, steering the creative in specific directions, not listening to anyone saying, “Hey, I know a really cool scenic route we can take”?

Who Should Be in The Driver’s Seat?

What this stretched out metaphor is trying to get at is data-driven advertising. Programmatic creative and dynamic creative optimization (DCO), for example, have added speed, scale, and automation to the creative process, allowing marketers to target specific audiences with personalized, relevant ads.

Automatically generated, these ads feature specific formats, colours, word choice, and more precise creative elements that are related to the time, the device being used, the weather, and other types of data to generate a vast array of content geared towards individuals.

Companies like Target, L’Oréal, and Unilever have made the most of programmatic advertising and data-driven marketing, allowing them to target specific audiences, test channels, and harness the power of technology. But what does all this data mean for creatives, and who should be in the driver’s seat?

Data Isn’t the Enemy

Big data is changing the advertising game by altering the creative process to be more data and analytics focused. But it’s not all bad.

First of all, it saves a ton of time. Media buying is more efficient and with the help of machine learning (read: robots), tons of unique content can be generated on the fly while targeting the right consumers.

And since it’s an advertiser’s job to successfully reach people with relevant messaging, the ability to customize content for specific audiences – resulting in a higher ROI – should be exciting, right? If anything, it means your work will resonate more strongly with the people it’s placed in front of. What more could you ask for?

If you’re sitting there thinking, “Uh, I’m a creative, I want to be creative,” then great news; There is still, and always will be, room to be creative.

Programmatic marketing will never fully replace creativity-fueled multimedia campaigns, but it is an area continuing to grow in popularity.

So rather than cringing every time someone mentions the word “data,” perhaps it’s time to embrace this data-focused shift, adapt, and use it to our advantage.

Data isn’t the enemy. It doesn’t have to put a damper on our innovative thinking and creative ideas. Instead, harnessing the power of data can lead to deeper insights, allow us to reach targets we otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and test our creative to produce better, stronger work in the future.

The Power of Both

Data can help effectively communicate and place your message, but spreadsheets won’t tell you to create a bronze sculpture of a young girl or hijack a smart speaker through the T.V. In the same way that data can help reinforce creative ideas, programmatic marketing and segmented advertising also doesn’t have to lack creativity.

Curious what it looks like for creative and data to harmoniously exist together? Check out Amanda Foundation’s “Digital Pawprint,” a successful programmatic advertising campaign that balanced both. This non-profit organization homes shelter animals and cleverly used data to drive adoptions.

They created a “Digital Pawprint” by building profiles for potential owners based on their age, location, family size, and other interests. They also built profiles for pets in need of adoption, then matched the animals to their perfect owners with messaging like, “I love the great outdoors, just like you.”

This campaign exemplifies the powerful potential of creatively using data. Someone uncovered the insight that an intimidating part of the adoption process is finding a pet that fits your lifestyle. Then, they used data to help bring their creative idea to life.

Some other campaigns that have integrated data with their creative thinking include Snickers’ “Hungerithm” and Spotify’s “Thanks 2016, It’s Been Weird” and “2017 Wrapped” campaigns. Even Cannes has a Creative Data Lions winners category, all of which use data to inform and propel creative ideas forward.

Brilliance Demands Balance

There is too often a divide between data and creative. Some creatively driven agencies “set and forget” creative, conducting light optimization testing at best. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, there are shops only focused on performance marketing that completely rely on data but are lacking imagination.

Data is the key to unlocking what is truly motivating audience’s decisions, informing media placement, and optimizing your messaging; Conceptual creative thinking capitalizes on consumer insights and adds the human touch.

Rather than deciding which should drive the other, we must allow data and creative to work in tandem with one another. It’s not about picking favourites, it’s about maintaining balance.

If you use data to inform insights, and effectively execute creative concepts with the strength of analytics, you won’t just watch the magic happen, you’ll be making it happen.

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