Dave Trott adds that "the love of, and trust in, numbers overrides everything else". It’s the tip of a wider divide between data companies and creative agencies that desperately needs to be bridged for the industry to progress.
So, how have we arrived here? For many ad agency professionals, ‘data’ has become a loaded word, with the default association being superfluous digital media ‘engagement’ metrics, measured just because they exist rather than because they provide meaningful insight.
"If the industry wants to survive it has got to lose its obsession with data and go back to its roots," Hegarty adds. Data is clearly perceived as getting in the way of the creative process, with the risk that all data sources are dismissively lumped together and tarnished with the same brush.
The advent of dynamic creative technology has not helped to build bridges either. Tech and data companies are nibbling the lunch of their creative agency counterparts at the executional end of the creative spectrum – a traditionally lucrative, high-margin sector of the creative production process. Technology that automatically creates and optimises a personalised message relative to the purchase behaviour of a customer is unlikely to be welcomed by the Mad Men.
Conversely, data companies have done a poor job so far in articulating the rich insight available in a language or format accessible to inform upstream creative strategy. This lack of access to ‘useful’ data is fuelling mistrust across an already gaping cultural void.
It takes time to adjust
Another major issue is the sheer pace of change. Facebook is 15 years old. Instagram is ten. Take a step back and consider this in the context of the wider arc of media development. In print, it took around 4,500 years for humanity to progress from the first clay writings to automated print distribution with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1440.
Slightly more recently, in the world of commercial television, it took a full 27 years for a second commercial channel, Channel 4, to appear after the launch of ITV in 1955. There used to be time to adjust. When one considers the complexities of data and technology, in addition to the new digital canvases creative agencies are having to grapple with, it is hardly surprising we are we are only at the start of this particular journey.
The best advertising comes from the best insight
There is now a real opportunity for creative agencies and data companies to work more closely and to understand and embrace types of meaningful data to inform creative strategy that ultimately helps clients to sell more products.
‘Meaningful’ data provides insight born out of human truth and observation, irrespective of channel. In FMCG, for example, it starts with studying data gathered passively from shopping trips in store and online to reveal clear patterns of how people interact with products and brands. It reveals what people buy, when, where and how often.
It is easy to understand, empirically representative and definitive. It eliminates preconceptions and misconceptions. When aggregated and observed over years, it becomes data that reveals wider observations about society and culture – the nation’s health, new modes of shopping or perhaps the desire to shift to living in a more sustainable manner.
When this passively observed behavioural sales data is connected securely and anonymously to other data types, such as attitudinal panel data or media channel exposure data, the opportunity to inform and enhance creative thinking increases exponentially.
The outputs can help inform whether overarching creative strategy should focus on price, quality, convenience or trust. It can inform whether customers stopped buying a brand because they didn’t like the old advertising or started buying because they bought in to the new brand positioning. It can reveal if advertising impact increases by switching to a messaging strategy with a more localised approach, perhaps using regional recipe dishes or local colloquialisms that bring the creative to life within a particular community.
Culturally, it could signal whether The Great British Bake Off is still the hottest food programme since sliced bread, whether Halloween is a scarily big and increasing sales opportunity or simply whether swapping to a healthier hero product within a range might be a good idea to engage a gym-obsessed millennial audience.
The best advertising comes from the best insight and the best insight comes from the best data. Rich and immersive behavioural data reveals not only truths and trends about society and culture, but the human condition in general. Behavioural economic theory can now add structure to the task of deciphering behavioural data further – the emotional why behind the buy. Exploring hypotheses through data should be a joy for any agency account planner worth their salt, providing an opportunity to talk to customers in distinctive ways that brings creative to life. Data should reinforce the creative idea born from gut-feel, not replace it.
We work with brands and retailers to provide insight to prove or challenge whether they are approaching business strategy and planning from the right angle. The two sides may speak a different language, but creative agencies need to embrace data further if they wish to protect their esteemed status. Following the messy divorce of media from their masters in the decades before, could the recent re-coupling of creative and media with the renaissance of the integrated full-service agency model provide a future blueprint to extend towards data partners?
Wouldn’t it be great if advertising art and science could finally come together? As Einstein pointed out: "The greatest scientists are artists as well."