Getting creative with data

How can the strategic use of data inspire businesses to be more creative? Marketers and agencies put their heads together around the Campaign table in Cannes to thrash it out.

What is the context that you are operating in?

Jon Forsyth, chief communications strategy officer, Adam & Eve/DDB: Transparency of data and protection around data are undoubtedly the biggest conversations: the consumer is paranoid about data. But, within that, there’s a discussion about how the data can be used for good. Another interesting trend is that technology and data have converged so that, almost for the first time, you really can know how your body works and how you can make yourself work better.

Caitlin Ryan, group executive creative director, Karmarama: The transaction between consumers and brands is shifting, and that’s exciting for creatives rather than depressing or worrying. The responsibility is on us, on behalf of brands: if we are not entertaining or useful or inspiring, or using that data to improve life in some way, the consumer will walk away.

Jason Goodman, chief executive, Albion: For me, it’s about cultural insights. Regulators are getting firmer. And the government is more fearful than the consumer, because it can see something more political in the use of data.

Rian Shah, managing partner, strategy, OMD UK:   The anxiety may be overstated, but there aren’t enough good stories out there about how data is being used to generate value for consumers.

The broader context of marketing, such as product design and product innovation – that’s where data is being used in a really interesting way. We work with Using a price-com­parison site is a very onerous process and consumers don’t enjoy it, but they do enjoy the benefits of it. So we developed a product called Snaps, where you photograph your bill and, within seconds, it will serve back some better-value alternatives. Suddenly, everyone loves it and no-one is questioning the fact that you’re photographing your bill.

Pierre Naggar, EMEA managing director, Turn: I think there’s an element of trust and confidence that’s so important today, when it wouldn’t have been before.

Data at speed

Jens Jermiin, vice-president, group digital, media and creative content production, Carlsberg: The consumption of content has increased dramatically, and so has our ability to put speed into our processes, based on insight around the passion points our brands are representing and the trending topics within those passion points. We have morning briefings on the trending topics our brands are hitting. We then have a four-hour creative process to churn out social content – and then we track and monitor, and kill it if it doesn’t travel. If it travels, we amplify it. So all this data is a catalyst for speed on the consumer side but also on the company side. And it’s a hard thing for a tra­ditional company to be a more real-time-thinking company. 

Nick Jones, head of digital com­munications and corporate social responsibility, Visa Europe: It’s interesting to hear about a data-driven product [Snaps] rather than a data-driven marketing campaign. We use data to real-time fraud score; in six milliseconds, you can have your contactless payment authorised. What’s intriguing is this relationship between the brand and the data. I was glad you brought up transparency protection first; it’s something I’m very concerned about. There is a small, vocal, growing group of people who are concerned about data, and a lot of them are Digital of Tech City rather than Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells. Russell Davies wrote in Campaign about this concept of the "IndieWeb", where people want to create original content that’s not searchable, that’s sitting on their own servers.

Ami Anderson, director of marketing excellence, health partnerships and platforms, General Mills : Companies like ours have a huge database and we have to be respectful: "You came to us for Yoplait yoghurt coupons, I’m going to keep you with Yoplait; and I know that coupons are important to you, so I’m not going to give you a recipe on how to make a cake." So it’s about being respectful and then using the data for good but not abusing it.

We also see that, globally, millennials are getting cautious that they are leaving a very large digital footprint out there, so now you see the growth of Snapchat: "I want to share, but only for a second, because I’m really concerned about how you are having too much data about me." There’s a story that comes up all the time in the US about a retailer from whom a girl bought a pregnancy test. She came home and her mother knew she was pregnant. And it’s like: "What? I don’t want a retailer to tell my parents that!"

Martin Moll, marketing director, Honda Europe : What worries me about data is: what do we need in our industry? A customer. And a customer is a human. Yet there’s this idea of them being sat in a database. Some databases know everything about you but they just don’t know you. There isn’t a relationship and much of what we do is focused on transactions, not relationships. And we spend more time trying to invest in the new rather than protecting our existing customers. That’s a conundrum for us. I think there will be a backlash from this next generation who don’t want a data case history on them that can live forever.

What is relevance?


Norman de Greve, chief solutions officer, DigitasLBi: I’ve been thinking during this discussion: we know that data drives relevance, but what is relevance?  It’s not a binary thing. We have to figure out what is the right amount of relevance that delivers the value consumers actually care about. Because some of that relevance they don’t care about and we’re spending a lot of time on it. You’re totally right on the data piece: data is people. It’s people in disguise. If we can start to think of it as that, rather than as something that is cold and transactional, then we can create something beautiful; we can create a relationship and connect. We’re not doing enough of that today.

Science and art  

AA: There’s the science and the art. One of my favourite quotes is by Larry Light: "Metrics don’t make decisions, people do." Sometimes, we follow the metrics out the window, and science-led marketing is very boring. Art is what makes it exciting. Because we’re all about storytelling, and storytelling isn’t about data – it’s about interacting with consumers as people.

Jodie Stranger, executive director, global network clients, Starcom MediaVest Group : And it’s about agility in using data – if you look at things such as Oreo’s "dunk in the dark" Twitter thing at the Super Bowl, it’s the agility that comes with understanding what people are talking about at that moment that’s really exciting.

NJ: Just to pick up on a couple of things people have said – can we coin a phrase? "People-centric data" is what we need. We need to show magic to the data people, in the way that they have shown data to the magicians. And we need to get that balance. There is a great quote from the guy who did Volvo Trucks’ "the epic split" campaign with Jean-Claude Van Damme: "It was strategically sound and audaciously unfathomable." So he probably had the data but he also had the creativity that makes you go "wow".

JJ: We have to really find out how data can augment creativity. At the end of every process, we have to sit down and ask ourselves: will this get talked about in the pub?

JG: To Jens’ point – the speed at which things are moving as a result of data means that everything has to be even more live and agile, and people need to be able to understand each other.


NDG: I think data right now is particularly used for targeting and measurement. And the magic, I think, is in the profiles of people. So it will be the next generation that will unlock something much more powerful in the creativity but also in the connection of brands.

CR: A lot of these conversations are about agility and speed with data and, actually, I thought the most interesting thing about the Volvo campaign was that it took four years to get to this piece of content. It’s about having to wean yourself off paid media. And earned media is about understanding what people want, how they want it, and then you have to look at the data to get to earned media. With paid media, it was: "We’ll just spend the money and make them watch it." So, for brands and creatives, it has kind of shifted.  

Business shifts

RS: Everything new to the system adds to the system. So you don’t go "OK, now we’ve got earned, so let’s ditch the paid-for stuff" because that wouldn’t work; that’s not how we think. We think: "OK, the system has changed, so we’ll just use all these elements differently." So, why create a big piece of content that’s going to be relevant to lots of people, because they have paid-for advertising? You take it down to the next level and say how can we create lots and lots of pieces of content that might be useful to specific groups of people, and refine that as we go along. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. For me, there are huge opportunities. You’ve got these big owned platforms now. A lot of brands have amazing assets they can start with and, from there, you have this opportunity to build exclusive relationships with different pockets of people because you know about them. That’s what’s exciting about it.  

AA: One of the things we look at is: is a piece of content remarkable? And, if it is, people share it and, if they share it, it means they care about you. We’ve also noticed that changes behaviours.

JS: We also need to make sure that colleagues and everyone across the organisation understands that everything communicates now, not just the media part. Everyone in the organisation can communicate something, so everybody has a responsibility, and that’s across social and mobile too – everyone has a responsibility.

JJ: I use a lot of our external communication as internal communication to get a better understanding of what it takes to build a brand. Our company name is also a brand name within our portfolio. And consumers today, as we see, are unable to distinguish between the company and the brand, so whatever impression we’re able to carry though about the brand will translate into the company brand. Currently, our storytellers are not truly integrated in the business. But I think we’re getting there. Naggar Consumers are interacting comfortably and using multiple devices these days, and marketing should take that into account. We’ve done research into the importance of cross-channel measurement. Even before we touch on this data, I think it’s key that you have an understanding, when you build that dialogue with different consumers, that you take into account where they’re going and where they use a computer. I think that’s key. 

For a brand to be meaningful today, it needs to affect people’s personal well-being and the space that they exist in. That is being customer-centric

Brand challenges

MM: For us, the two key problems are almost equal: finance and sales. Because the whole thing is that marketing is an expense or an investment. So we have to plan for that.

JF: I think the really interesting debate is that data provides this brilliant efficiency. It just depends how you use that efficiency. So you can be very efficient and find very short-term, tactical ways of applying that data, but we know as an industry that it isn’t working. The IPA produced a great report that shows long-term brand investment over time will give you a better profitable return. There are things finance departments push for, but we know that isn’t the right thing to do.

NDG: I was just following up on a particularly interesting example where you’re talking about the value: the iBeacon thing [Apple’s indoor proximity system] that’s going on, where you can actually walk into a store and participate and opt in. The value creation for the retail world and the digital world is phenomenal. It is predicated on a great first-party data asset, which most companies need to build of their own. Because third-party data, in a way, is a commodity – everybody has the same, so you have no com­petitive advantage. If you get first-party data and treat people the right way, then you can live the journeys together and you can treat them the right way in the store.

Paul Frampton, chief executive, Havas Media: I think there’s a great opportunity here because, let’s face it, the board table talks about data all the time. We have to get better at helping them look at the right types of data. There is clearly disruption affecting many businesses moving from retail to digital. We’ve got to find better ways of making sure that information is surfaced upstream. The other big issue going on at sea level is trust. For a brand to be meaningful today, it needs to affect people’s personal well-being and the space that they exist in. That is being customer-centric – whereas, most of the time, the conversations around the board table are profit-centric. A lot of boards are talking about big data because they see efficiency. I think this is why programmatic is getting a lot of focus right now – how does it help us to make our investment smarter? Because, at the end of the day, that is the promise of data. If you collect data and more and more people engage with your campaigns, then, in principle, you can make your own audience your media channel. I think sometimes we’ve just got to talk business language rather than marketing language.

CR: With the sales guys, there’s that immediate need to sell tomorrow versus invest in tomorrow.

JG: To build on what Jon said, my view is that investment in brands via data should be in product rather than communications.


Jermiin: We are not trying to build a spaceship, and we don’t think we know all the answers just because we have the data.

Anderson: If you collect data, use it. But be relevant to people – give them something that’s meaningful to them.

Frampton: Data is sometimes a dirty word but, if dealt with rightly, it can start the magic and the innovation.

Goodman: I think one of the measures of success has got to be how fast you move because of data. And if data is slowing you down, then the organisation has got to change.

Ryan: Don’t leave creatives out of the data conversation. Creatives can bring data to life in magical ways.

Moll: Data is customer. And customer is about relationship, not transaction. Then, suddenly, it’s very exciting for stakeholders such as salespeople.

Naggar : There’s still an enormous pressure on how to justify the use of data sometimes. Where we see a lot of success is when people start small and agile. It’s very important for businesses to define what objectives they have, and then look back and work out what data they have to help them achieve that.

Shah : The temptation is to think huge, but we should start small. Secondly, just go talk to people, because they will often get you to the answers better than drawing spurious correlations.
Stranger: Data unlocks hidden opportunities. And make sure you have the right people engaged at the right time, so your data doesn’t just become an end destination. Someone said to me recently that we do the best work when we’re reframing the question. Data can help us unlock that question.
De Greve: Data is just the behaviour of people. We’re moving from ‘plan and command’ to ‘adaptive and responsive’, and data is what fuels that, in a relevant way and at the micro level.
Forsyth: One of the biggest challenges we’re going to have is the way we communicate the value of data internally as much as externally, especially within agencies.

Jones : Data is people.

(Clockwise from bottom right: Martin Moll, marketing director, Honda Europe; Caitlin Ryan, group executive creative director, Karmarama; Jason Goodman, chief executive, Albion; Paul Frampton, chief executive, Havas Media; Ami Anderson, director of marketing excellence, General Mills; Jens Jermiin, vice-president, group digital, media and creative content production, Carlsberg; Philip Smith, head of contents solutions and studio, Campaign and Brand Republic Group (chair); Nick Jones, head of digital com­munications and corporate social responsibility, Visa Europe; Jon Forsyth, chief communications strategy officer, Adam & Eve/DDB; Norman de Greve, chief solutions officer, DigitasLBi; Jodie Stranger, executive director, global network clients, Starcom MediaVest Group;  Rian Shah, managing partner, strategy, OMD UK; Pierre Naggar, EMEA managing director, Turn)