If you’ve been staring into the future and wondering when the great war of Man vs the Machines may kick off, you need look no further than the media and advertising industry to understand that it's already underway. And right now, the people seem to be losing. Or at least, the idea of people. Creativity has, over the past few years, taken the backseat to data and how it can be used to isolate and reach audience members. but this is a battle which should never have been fought, and for the industry to move forward must be swiftly reconciled.

People and data have many things in common. Firstly, both are growing at an exponential rate; in fact, we’ve got more of both than we’ve ever had before and we’re projected to suffer increasingly more. Additionally, both need to be housed, remain secure and need to be put to meaningful work lest they sit around taking up space and wasting energy and capital.

Despite being pitted against each other in debates around which is more important for delivering successful campaigns, people and data are co-dependent on each other. Each is needed to truly understand the other. People, through insight and research and analytical discipline, should be able to help us understand data. In turn, data allows us the ability to analyse and understand people’s behaviour. As people become ever more difficult to pigeon-hole and consequently harder to engage with, being able to use data to understand what drives decision-making and action has never been more important.

And yet our industry remains trapped in a binary argument. A few years ago, John Hegarty, BBH co-founder commented at Cannes: “We’ve lost the power and courage of creativity to drive our business forward....In our industry we’ve become obsessed with technology. In doing so, it has lost faith a little bit in the value of that big idea.” This sentiment was the result of an Economist survey of over 4,000 marketers in which the majority suggested creativity was a “legacy skill which is no longer a focus”.

The depth of data we can access has seen the industry take the decision that reaching the prospect most likely to convert at a given time is more important than the message which is delivered to them.

Rather than use data to understand what matters to consumers and use it as a creative tool to capture and hold audience attention, many choose to use the data at its most basic level; to simply identify. This just isn’t good enough. Especially when you consider today’s technology offering immediate access to ideas and trends from anywhere on earth. Influences come from endless channels and sources, including from the individuals themselves.

The right data can fuel the creative process as it can provide clear insight into what drives action, and creative can deliver the right message of persuasion to an audience in just the right way.

Technology can be used as never before to read the signals left by consumers; whether directly related to a purchase or not, the world of digital data offers insight into the life events and stressors which drive action. When we couple these insights to human imagination and storytelling, the results can and should be creatively compelling and relevant to the audience.

Ultimately, brands who find a way to knit together the valuable insights today’s data can provide with the creative power of human imagination with enjoy sustained success. Lasting peace is underwritten by parties working together and enjoying mutual success; this is opportunity that awaits the camps of data and creative.


By Tyler Greer, director of global sales strategy at Exponential

GDPR Summit Series is a global series of GDPR events which will help marketers to prepare to meet the requirements of the GDPR ahead of May 2018 and beyond. Further information and conference details are available at http://www.gdprsummit.london/

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