Dear creatives… it’s time to gas up the muse


SimonLarcey.jpgBy Simon Larcey, managing director, Path 51

Dear creative agencies. Can I talk to you about performance? It might be worthwhile paying attention, because this is no longer just ‘media’s problem’. I hope you’ll listen as I think it might be useful.

One of the most popular industry sayings of the 21st Century is that ‘data is the new oil’, an analogy broadly accredited to UK mathematician Clive Humby, whose 2006 comparison of the two was based on the idea that data is “valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used”.

The notion received something of an update recently, when The Economist published an article entitled “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data“.

Yep, data’s no longer just a commodity to be harvested and refined, it’s the world’s “most valuable resource”.

It’s not exactly a new idea that marketing should be informed by data, yet there continues to be a backlash against it. Often from creatives. And really, it’s a pretty understandable backlash – I mean, no person who prides themselves on having an original mind wants to be told that their ideas are all well and good, but data is the real gold mine.

What’s more, performance-driven marketing companies are more popular than ever, claiming to deliver the best results and ROI. As such, brands want more accountability and transparency, and are happy to take their business to pitch as soon as their agency drops their game.

It’s a very linear approach for an industry that is supposed to be based around creativity.

The thing is … it doesn’t need to be like this – it shouldn’t be like this. Rather, there must be a sense of balance. Media agencies are increasingly beefing up their creative creds, but creative agencies should likewise beef up their data and technology credentials. Unfortunately this is still so often not the case. This is a shame, and a major opportunity lost for creatives, particularly when so many different businesses – from consultancies to media owners to media-come-full-service agencies – are starting to encroach on the territory of advertising agencies. The creative muse is no longer enough.

There’s plenty to be said for the go-with-your-gut part of creativity, that notion of creative instinct that can never be replaced by a machine, but it’s no good just relying on your gut alone to come up with something that is most likely to maximise results.

The solution is easily said and not easily done. Bring your creative and data teams together and get them to work collaboratively. If you’re a creative agency that doesn’t ‘do data’, then you should evolve. Quickly.

Look at a group like The Woolshed, creators of ‘The Viral Experiment‘, in which the Melbourne-based production agency managed to send ten videos viral over the course of two years. While the content they churned out was super entertaining and clearly had brilliant creative inspiration, they did the research and crunched the numbers on what would help said videos to gain the necessary traction to blow up globally – covering off aspects such as timeliness, seeding strategy, and how best to make the content clickable.

Merely uploading the videos, no matter how convincing and entertaining they may have been, wasn’t going to get them anywhere. And if no one sees what you’ve created, then its brilliance is totally redundant. By combining data and insights with creative brilliance, they have done what no one thought was possible and developed a working formula for viral video.  

Another great example is Spotify’s campaign from late 2016. The business rolled out a global outdoor campaign with the tagline “Thanks, 2016. It’s been weird.” A range of different clever creative messages would appear, depending on data and insights relating to real-world Spotify customers and pop culture. There is no way this idea could have been developed by some creatives then shipped off to media to deal with the amplification, targeting and media placement. Data and creativity went hand in hand from day dot – the data and insights are part of the creativity.

And this collaboration between the creative and data isn’t confined to the start of a campaign, but should be viewed as an ongoing partnership, which helps to fuel dynamic creative.

As Pepsi proved emphatically earlier this year, the days of one big, Hail Mary-style ad are numbered, because it’s just too high a risk. Stuff it up, and you’ve effectively flushed a few million bucks down the drain.

Rather, creative needs to be lean and agile – able to respond to what is and isn’t working based on real-time analysis.

Media is data driven. You need to know where to put your ad and the creative that works best for a specific audience. But creativity is what drives advertising – you need to be creative to sell products, or differentiate yourself from your competitors.

Now, with the development of AI and the constant evolution of advertising technology, there has never been a better time for creative and media to work together. Advertising is a team effort, all about driving positive business outcomes for clients.

Performance is, of course, key and combining creative with media and having them work together can only have a positive effect. Media agencies have cottoned on to these changes and are evolving rapidly. Many creative agencies don’t seem to have gotten the memo.