We need both art and science in marketing — the “MadMen” and “MathMen.” I think the most compelling campaigns of the future will bring together the greatest creativity and the greatest insight informed by data.
But creatives and data scientists can make uneasy bedfellows. It’s one thing to optimize media; it’s another to optimize the creative itself. As marketing increasingly becomes data-driven, how will this impact creativity?
One agency head expressed a common point of view:
“A few weeks ago, I overheard a principal from another agency proudly boast, ‘Data drives every piece of creative we put out today.’ My immediate reaction was, ‘Boy, your creative must really suck.'”
If we’re not careful, this tension can lead to entrenched interests on both sides. Creative teams can be too precious with the “art” that they forget the purpose of the ad is ultimately to drive sales. Data scientists can stray from being data-driven to being data-blinded.
As David Kolbusz and Dylan Williams at Droga5 London put it recently:
“The rise of preference algorithms and programmatic buying has seen the pendulum swing from difference to relevance. The formidable challenge of interrupting a culture has given way to the quieter skill of fitting seamlessly in-stride with an individual’s data trail. Ideas so powerful that they demand attention and suspend disbelief are deemed less efficient than simply serving people precisely “what they want, when they want it.”
They went on to frame this work as “developing 4,000 video assets and watching a machine spread-bet them.”
Bridging the divide between art and science means knocking down some of the silo walls between the creative and the data science sides of the house.
I thought last year’s Tennessee Tourism campaign gave an interesting glimpse of how this is coming together. The Tennessee Department of Tourism wanted to draw people to the state, but recognized that people will visit for different reasons. So they created an overarching campaign, but with variations informed by data. As a WSJ article reported:
“It ran pre-roll video ads on sites across the web using a dozen templates which yielded over 2,000 video ad possibilities. People saw different variations of video ads based not only on where they lived, but whether they are foodies, golfers, outdoors enthusiasts or like to listen to country or rock–based on an assortment of first- and third-party data sets employed by the marketer…
“The end result was that while these ads featured some consistent music and visuals, one ad might tout hiking in the Tennessee mountains while another might talk up Memphis’ restaurants or the Johnny Cash museum in Nashville.”
AdWeek collected a couple of the 2,000 different video ads that resulted. The Tennessee Tourism campaign won a Cannes Lion last year and boosted traffic and intent to visit the state.
It will be interesting how the marriage of creativity and data evolves in the future. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years:
“MathMen” May 2013
“Data-Driven Marketing“ November 2014
“Marketing with A/B Testing“ June 2014
5 CommentsJoin the Discussion
Richard Warland says
Hey Marketoonist , I love your work… but in this case you are getting it wrong. Clever data insight beats creative EVERY time!
An old and sadly deceased (Texan) DM copywriter, John Hancock, taught me that with any DM offer the response factor hierarchy is –
100 points – the list
90 points – the offer
20 points – the creative
Guess what I go with?!
Dave S says
As both an artist and a data scientist, I have to disagree. Without creative, analytics has nothing to measure or optimize. Furthermore, good creative can be recognized without analytics. Analytics optimizes at the margins.
Last time was about the tension between creative and marketing relative to creative briefs.
This time the tension between data and creative.
And all 3 aspects of marketing efforts should of course be collaborative, not competitive.
As mentioned: “Bridging the divide between art and science means knocking down some of the silo walls between the creative and the data science sides of the house.”
I would probably argue it’s “bridging the divide between strategy, data and art”, but the point gets made.
I would also argue that data doesn’t stand on its own anyway — it’s a resource, input to developing strategy and creative.
As mentioned: “…the purpose of the ad is ultimately to drive sales.”
My version of that is: “creative in the absence of strategy is just art.”
I love data i really do.
But no one hangs a paint by numbers picture in the living room.
Adam Kleinberg says
I’m the agency head that said, ‘boy, your creative must really suck’ in the Ad Age article. This article has been referenced quite a lot and I appreciate why some commenters feel strongly that data trumps creative. The reality is not black and white at all.
The reason this is such a chicken and egg topic is that we use words very long loosely in this business and then defend our semantics with religious magnanimity. “Creative” is a a catch all word used to describe everything from a super bowl spot to a banner ad. “Data” is used to describe an expanse of items from survey results to cookie pools tracking billions of browser sessions.
Which comes first? It depends on your output—and your semantics.
If you are calling banner ads run trafficked programmatic ad tech “creative,” I might first tell you that calling banners creative is like calling nail polish an outfit. But then I’d readily agree that a style guide and a spreadsheet of messaging options to optimize will produce better ROI than a copy writer and art director trying to come up with creative ideas that inspire someone to “click here.”
On the other hand, if you’re developing a brand campaign—something that still holds the power to change the fortune for brands—data on its own is useless, but insight is the make or break factor that will determine if an idea breaks through or not. Creative without insight won’t create an emotional connection with consumers. It can still build awareness, but it likely won’t break through. But in my 20 years in the ad business, I’ve seen qualitative research much more effective than quantitative data at pointing to a new understanding of humanity that can inspire great work.
And since we are talking about being data-driven, doesn’t it make more sense to use what has the highest likelihood of success in a given situation?