UM’s Adam Morton: data vs. creativity isn’t zero-sum


Based on a number of industry events, I find it surprising that arguments still rage around data vs creativity or technology vs humanity. It’s not a zero-sum game.

Data, analysis and modelling have become integral parts of advertising – and yet it’s argued that an obsession with them can stifle creativity, experimentation and bravery. It leads you do to what’s safe, while over-focusing on ROI means you optimise based on the past, rather than innovating or building a brand for the future.

That’s not wrong. But at the same time clearly creativity without insight can be equally flawed. You do look at some ads and think to yourself, who are they trying to reach and what are they trying to say? It might be bold and disruptive, but was it actually rooted in anything?

The ad industry loves to talk in black and white terms, which fuels debate and makes things interesting. But as is often stated, the best things occur at the intersection of disciplines.

Look at some iconic and impressive ad campaigns, such as the award-winning British Airways ‘Magic of Flying’ billboard that pointed out the flights soaring overhead, or the Swedish Condom08 QR codes that promoted safe sex and obtained intriguing data on bedroom habits.

They use data and analysis to underpin and help deliver a level of creativity that would simply have been impossible otherwise. Using data and technology can allow you to be more ‘human’ and deliver more relevant and personalised experiences that help cut through the clutter.

Maybe we just should just talk less about data per se and focus more on what it provides. Necessary insights into audience behaviours, which lead you to consumer-centric ideas that can manifest themselves in whatever channel, should help creativity. The Pantene ad in the US that featured NFL stars doing their daughters’ hair is a powerful campaign, based on data that showed that girls who spend quality time with their fathers grow up stronger.

The truth is not black and white, is not data versus creativity. As with most things in life and in business, it’s about nuances and shades of grey. By marrying science with art, analysts with creative strategists, we can be informed as never before. But that doesn’t mean we always have to play by pre-determined rules.

Adam Morton is managing partner, client services at UM London

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