Creativity in an era of data and automation: Data isn’t the same as insights

 This article is part of a roundtable series brought to you by Shutterstock.

The acceleration of digital transformation and data-driven executions has permeated across all industries. During a recent virtual roundtable hosted by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, in collaboration with Shutterstock, on the “Future of creativity”, agency-side professionals shared that today data is empowering their creative process to deliver at a much faster speed.

“According to James Chua, founder of Germs Digital, agencies today are often strapped for time. They have a much shorter time to strategise, conceptualise and launch a campaign – or even think of ideas and execute on trending topics. As such, the amalgamation of art and  science has become a lot more important and sensitive in this era.

For Germs Digital, the agency relies heavily on data, especially when there is a time-crunch, the data team  is brought in to work with the creative team at the onset  of the  conceptualisation process.”

Yvonne Januschka, APAC VP of Shutterstock, also added that being armed with data allows creative teams to tap into what is relevant in the news to ensure their content is in line with what society is facing, be it around culture or the economy. It also allows brands to know what consumers are speaking up on and be in line with what matters to their audience.

Content creators can leverage on data-led reports, such as the annual Creative Trends Report from Shutterstock that predicts image, video and music styles set to dominate marketing campaigns, advertising creative and video projects throughout the year.  “Visual content statistics give us insights about consumer behaviour so we can produce creative assets that capture consumer attention, drawing viewers into a deeper relationship with the brand,” Januschka said.

Not only does data help lay the groundwork for creativity, it also aids creative teams within an agency sell a campaign idea to a client. Andy Grant, ECD of TBWA\Singapore, said with the backing of data, ideas become easier to sell to clients.

“This makes data a really smart and useful way for creative teams to back up their belief in an idea, and convince their clients better on why it will work,” he said, adding that he finds data mining to be very exciting, and that the trend towards data has given him a lot of tools to work with.

Advertising veteran Patrick Low, founder and creative partner at Goodfellas, who has been working in the industry for more than 40 years, added that while he has always viewed advertising as an art instead of a science, he acknowledges that today data is an enabler for more targeted and personalised advertising. “Data provides the facts and the ingredients to create good and relevant advertising,” he said.

Coupled with an effective interpretation of data, these insights can help creative teams create a big idea for campaigns and create work that can also be very insightful and meaningful.

The use of data to create something big with a smaller budget also comes in handy during a time when many companies are seeing a slash in their advertising spend amid the pandemic-hit year.

Insight is not the same as data

While data may be seen as king, Tripti Lochan, co-CEO of Asia, VMLY&R, said the crux of a good creative work lies in the insights derived from the data.

“Insights are not the same as data; insights are derived from data,” she clarified, adding the way insights are gathered have also changed in recent years.

As compared to earlier times where insights were probably gathered by talking to a few consumers in a focus group, she said most agencies are now relying on social listening or analysing previous behaviour of consumers to reveal new findings.

Although industry players at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s virtual roundtable sang praises for data when it comes to creative work, they also all agreed the human element comes in to play with the interpretation of the data.

“Science helps to inform, and it’s our job as creatives to then inspire,” said Ed Cheong, ECD of iris Worldwide, splitting a clear line between the two. “The trick is not just in having data and automation. The art also lies in the person analysing them. You still need to develop a point of view based on the data,” Cheong said.

Data may be able to provide an idea of what people are interested in, but without analysing the data collected through a new lens, works of advertising will simply start looking like more of the same.

The pertinence of the human touch in creative processes was further amplified by Jeff Cheong, deputy CEO, DDB Group Singapore, who said creativity and ideation can never happen in isolation.

“Although agencies can look at the abundance of data they have when producing a creative work, only humans can create things emotionally,” he said.

Of course, this means that sometimes agencies may fail in reaching certain audiences, but Cheong said that’s the magic of what creatives produce. “You never know how it will turn out.”

Going back to basics

Holding a similar view, Shouvik Prasanna Mukherjee, ECD at Golin, said the most important thing for brands is to “go back to basics” and redefine their role in society and their relationship with their consumers. Brands should utilise data to introspectively rediscover who they really are, what they stand for, and what their purpose is.

He cited an example with Golin’s Maggi which banked on social listening to understand the concerns of its consumers, and create content that met their needs. For example, listening to the concerns of health-conscious parents and consumers, the brand started creating content around healthy food for kids with Maggie.

“It’s about keeping your eye on what people are doing,” he said. He added the creative process is not any different than what it was in the past, but data can help uncover more insights that can help brands build on their core branding.

Perhaps summing up the virtual roundtable very well, he said there should be always be a close relationship between data and the human touch when it comes to creativity, and the future lies in the balance of the two and how agencies can achieve them.  

Adding to the point, Lochan said that at the base of every creative process is creating a shared value between what the brand stands for, and the values of its consumers which can be powered by data and uncovered with the right insights.

That intersection is the white space that brands can own, and it is important because that is the only way a brand can come across as relevant or authentic, which is what consumers want nowadays.

“If the customer experience isn’t surrounded by the values of what the brand stands for, it gives no output to the brand in the longer term,” she said.

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