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"Data is a must-have, a hygiene factor in business today"

Sorting 'real' from 'fake' data is important, but a more challenging issue confronting brands and marketers might be the ethics of data

"Data is a must-have, a hygiene factor in business today"

Data has been an essential part of marketing for years, but running alongside that has been a tension when it comes to its involvement in the creative process.

If data is the new currency, where does creativity fit in? Are agency creatives the next dinosaurs, or can the interplay between data and creativity be used to create strong, sustainable value for brands?

Contagious co-founder and chief brand officer Paul KempRobertson asked this and more of the ‘When Data Meets Creativity’ panel he moderated at Dentsu Aegis Network’s Beach House during the 2019 Cannes Festival of Creativity.

Panellist Ted Lim, chief creative officer of Dentsu APAC and jury president for the Direct Lions 2017, agreed data is essential for effective, precise reach and engagement.

"Data is a must-have, a hygiene factor in business today. Creativity is the differentiating factor that moves the people data has helped reach," he said. "Data informs the creative and media strategy without which we will be shooting in the dark. But we don’t have more or better data than Google or Facebook, and if we’re operating in China, Baidu or WeChat won’t even sell us their data. So what, really, is our competitive advantage?

"Data tells us where the customer is. Media gets us there. What we do when we are face-to-face with the customer, that’s creative. That’s the moment of truth. When we’re there, standing on the doorstep, what do we do to get the customer to invite us in, spend time with us, like us, buy us? Creativity is the competitive advantage that moves people and business."

Data unlocked
So who is doing this well? Yasuharu Sasaki, head of digital creative at Dentsu Inc. and jury president for the Creative Data Lions 2019, a category now in its fifth year, said the best entries this year had the potential to shape the future. Grand Prix winner ‘Go Back to Africa’, by FCB/Six Toronto Black & Abroad, was chosen for its success not only as a marketing campaign, but its cultural impact.

The campaign reclaimed the slur that African-Americans encounter online all too often, encouraging them to travel to one or more of Africa’s 54 countries with customised content based on personal preferences for wildlife, design or specific locations. In addition, an algorithm was developed to pull images from Google, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram showing aspirational black travel, an important divergence from the predominantly white travellers featured in traditional tourism campaigns.

"In this digital age we see a lot of useful data and information, but at the same time we see a lot of negative information, fake news and hate messages," said Sasaki. "This campaign didn’t hide the information, it changed a hate message into a positive one and… made black people think about travelling the world."

This kind of greater social purpose meant strong contenders such as Volvo’s ‘Equal Vehicles for All’ (EVA) project by Forsman & Bodenfors, Gothenburg, also scored highly. That campaign, highlighting gender inequality in car safety, opened up 40 years of Volvo crash-test research data to make all cars safer for women.

"A few years ago, data was only used for marketing; now it is unlocked – it’s everywhere," he said. "Data is connected to people and culture, so if brands and creative can utilise data in the right way, we can create not only activations, but a new service, new experience, or a new culture."

Responsible use
Despite the value often placed on first-party data, the Creative Data Grand Prix winner used publicly available data.

"Around 70% of entries featured AI, but at the same time people were starting to think about the ethics of data," said Sasaki. "Not just getting data from users, but using it in the right way.

"We discussed a lot about the future of data in the jury. People don’t trust brands because brands get data from users, but with a great idea, people start to trust brands again and provide their data for a better experience."

One such project was shared by Asheen Naidu, executive creative director of BWM Dentsu & Juror of Industry Craft Lions 2019. Naidu gave an insight into Project Revoice, which uses voice technology to give people suffering from conditions such as ALS (also known as motor neurone disease) their voice back so they don’t have to rely on computer-assisted speech.

"About two-and-a-half years ago there was a lot of work being done in the voice-tech space by the likes of Google Home and Amazon Alexa, but it was all for commercial purposes," he said. "We thought about using voice tech to give people their voices back and immediately thought of the Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC), which had done a great job of raising awareness of ALS. We realised Pat Quinn, co-founder of the IBC, had sadly lost his voice, so we approached the ALS Association."

The agency found out that Quinn had not ‘backed up’ his voice before losing it by making recordings, but because of his work as an advocate for the ALS Association, he had done numerous publicly available interviews. The team sorted through the data files to find and clean up the audio samples, then developed an algorithm into which the samples were fed to digitally clone Quinn’s voice, ultimately giving him his voice back – as well as all those who went on to follow his example.

All three panellists agreed that using creativity to unlock ethically sourced data is the way forward for the industry. "Data is not owned by a company, people should own their data and can select which data they will give to a brand," said Sasaki. Added Naidu: "People are wary about what technology companies are doing with their stored data. To use that data, you’ve got to do it in a very transparent way… that customers feel that you’re not stalking them or selling their information. It’s how you use it ethically that’s going to become interesting."

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