“Data Isn’t Killing Creativity, It’s Killing The Creative Ego”

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It’s Adland’s ego that is bearing the brunt of the influx of data, not the actual creativity itself. At least, that was the gist of the creativity versus data debate at last night’s Vivid Festival in Sydney.

Posed with the question of whether data is killing creativity, three creatives fought tirelessly against three data gurus to prove creativity was being smothered by data. But alas, when it came to voting it turned out the data geniuses were more persuasive and won over the audience.

The data argument that numbers weren’t killing creativity earned a 64 per cent share of the audience vote. Only 36 per cent of the audience thought it was pounding down creativity.

Earning a huge amount of applause, Jenny Williams, CMO of The Hospitals Contribution Fund (HCF), ended the debate with: “Data isn’t killing creativity. But data is threatening to kill the creative ego.”

However, creative ad man Luke Chess, who was arguing on the side that data IS killing creativity, said brands are like the creepy guys at parties that are looking for the one on one conversation. And that the persona has been exacerbated by data, given marketers are constantly trying to personalise messaging.

And insights and ideas don’t come from data, he said, they come from human creativity and just bloody good ideas. However, Holly Joshi, senior manager of optimisation and analytics at SapientNitro and fellow data panellist, refuted this, saying ideas can only come from insight.

“Data is human,” she said. “And it’s proven to drive creativity.” But the term ‘big data’ has been bandied around for too long, and it’s this outdated view that hinders data. Instead, Joshi said it’s the little bits of data that help shape an overall insight – which then leads to a creative idea.

Still, futurologist Oliver Freeman, on the creative side, said data is too often used to determine trends. For him, trends are a way of looking back at what’s happened, not a way of looking forward.

Echoing this, Chess said: “Data determines what was. Creativity determines what could be.”

The speakers for the creative side:

  • Olivier Freeman – director and co-founder, The Neville Freeman Agency
  • Fiona Kerr – systems and neural complexity specialist, Adelaide University
  • Luke Chess – creative partner at Mammal

The speakers for the data side

  • Jenny Williams – chief marketing officer, HCF
  • Holly Joshi – senior manager optimisation & analytics APAC, SapientNitro
  • Dr Chelsea Wise – founder, head of behavioural science at Pureprofile


Jane Caro – lecturer, The School of Communication Arts at UWS

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