Each event had a common thread, if not a stated purpose: the indefinable, transformational power of creative brilliance. You can talk for hours (though we never did) about data. But as soon as conversation turns to creativity, everyone lights up, leans forward and really engages. In debate as in advertising: creativity is a powerful tool.
From the blurring of the lines between advertising and art to the role of creativity in a consensual and collegiate world of integrated thinking, creativity is the stimulator. But no matter how you try to rationalise and commoditise the advertising process, creative excellence ultimately remains beyond what it's possible to define and contain. So it was depressing to read about a new survey that claims chief marketing officers are now more concerned about data and less about creativity.
According to a study by IBM, marketers are paralysed by the wealth of data they now have on the minutiae of their comms strategy. Ironically, their response to this deluge is to invest in more tools to analyse this wealth of data better. One marketer who worked for an airline was quoted in the report: "The success of my role is far more about analytics and technology than hanging out with my ad agency, coming up with great creative campaigns. We must increase campaign ROI."
Incidentally, one of the other frightening things about the IBM survey was the fact that less than half of the CMOs surveyed had any influence over their brands' price point, product development or channel selection. That's an argument, if ever there was one, for why agencies need to fight their way back into the client boardroom and work with all the key decision-makers. Agencies are more capable than ever of advising across all aspects of a brand, from conception through to sale, yet they are shackled in many cases to marketers that have less influence than ever on the breadth of brand activity.
Anyway, back to data and ROI. Of course creativity has to work. But we know the most creative ads are also the most effective - that's been proved time over. Are the most creative ads conceived in a world where data takes precedence, though?
Some of the best and most effective work that got discussed during the course of those debates I presided over last week was not even, initially, created for the brand it ended up promoting (either because it was appropriated or because it took an agency several attempts to find a client bold enough to buy it). Creativity defies data - it's entertaining and engaging in a way that can't be reduced to a prescription or formula.
Data itself needs to be treated creatively, otherwise all we'll have left is numbers and no room for instinct and flair.