The futures of data and creativity are fundamentally connected. While this eventuality seems inevitable and the statement may be even something of a platitude nowadays, the stark abyss between data and creativity is present across many industries – but none more than the advertising industry.

It has been noted by close observers of the many famous advertising awards ceremonies that effectiveness is now key to success, but still there are too few examples of data-driven creativity.

This post first appeared in Marketing Magazine, Oct 2012
This post first appeared in Marketing Magazine, Oct 2012.

There are five reasons that data – for the moment – might be removed from the creative process:

First, data mining is often too arduous and complex. As a result, it’s expensive to make data useful, hence there are many sophisticated data analysts who can charge like a wounded bull. Their outputs might be impressive, but their hourly rates scare off too many potential clients.

Second, data mining teams are often unglamorous and lack the cool-factor found in creative agencies. Or so the creative agencies believe. One creative director recently used the oil and water analogy, saying “we’re better off at opposite ends of the creative engine”.

Third, when the media departments became independent of their creative agency siblings, not only did the media revenue walk out the door of creative agencies, so did much of the detailed customer and media knowledge.

Next, “data”, per se, is getting too big. We all seem to refer to Big Data as short hand for “what do we do with this mass of data?” Only recently, Andy Lark, the CMO for Commonwealth Bank of Australia said that while he has eight petabites of data in warehouses, he has no one to mine that data. So it sits getting old and redundant.

Similarly Tom Uglow, at Google’s “Creative Labs” in Australia, highlights in presentations that “Everything is Data”. That’s pretty big. But he provides few examples that actually demonstrate where data-driven marketing has made a real difference. He just says it will make a difference and shows examples of non-marketers using data. In short, while “Everything is Data” one cannot say that “Data Drives Everything”. Not yet, but it could and it should.

Gartner’s Hype Cycle, 1995

Finally, it’s time to admit that agencies talking about getting close to data, so far, has largely been part of the “credentials hype”. According to the hype cycle that Gartner’s been talking about since 1995, (pictured), right now we’re still in the first phase, the hype, with a “peak of inflated expectations”. Everyone is extolling the virtues of data-driven creativity but there are so few practitioners.

Fear of a lack of data privacy will soon lead to “a trough of disillusionment”, fuelled by big players like Microsoft who launched the latest Internet Explorer with the Do Not Track button already turned on.

This period of disillusionment will be short-lived and consumers will start to expect (and demand) tailored creative – not generic “stuff” hurled (aka broadcasted) at them on digital media and our industry will move up the “slope of enlightenment”, as Gartner refers to it. At this juncture, tailored insights from the ever-growing stores of data will fuel more creative solutions to a range of problems across all industries. And there lies the holy grail, the “plateau of productivity”. Some are there already. But not many.

Those of us in the advertising industry need to innovate the data mining process NOW and find a way to put wisdom-derived-from-data more often at the heart of the creative process.