The Hunt For Freaky Facts: Why Data Is The Latest Tool In The Creative Kit

World map textured human brain covered with abstract connections.

As the debate around the role of creativity and the impact that technologies like artificial intelligence will have abounded at a recent conference, Quantcast’s Nicole Gardner (pictured below) talks to why data is the latest tool in the marketers’ creative kit in this op-ed.

Nicole Gardner

Data isn’t the dreaded death knell of creativity, but rather just the latest tool at our disposal to help forge a deeper bond between a brand and its customers.

But how exactly is this relationship between art and science playing out?

When you think about some of the most attention-grabbing advertising ideas in recent years, it’s often hard to imagine the one thing that sparked the original concept that, once brought to life, became part of the fabric of popular culture. From the earliest days of advertising, creative people have been drawn to absolutely any stimulus that may solve a brief, whether that be something someone said, an experience, a book, a movie, or an interview with a customer.

As a result, the origins of great ideas vary widely.

McCann’s John Mescall, the creator of the worldwide public service announcement sensation “Dumb Ways to Die”, got his idea after talking to a railway engineer. The multi-award winning campaign Snickers Hungerithm by Clemenger combined customer data and the core observation behind the campaign idea – people get ‘hangry’ – to lower the price of a Snickers bar at 7-Eleven stores as the tone of internet chatter became angrier.

Good ideas can come from anywhere. When put in context and combined with good storytelling they can become the campaigns that capture the hearts and minds of your audience.

Despite that, some during the recent Adweek conference claimed that data inhibits rather than inspires creativity. There was a perception that data teaches rules and rules inhibit creativity.

There is no argument in the fact that data and analysis is about creating order and identifying patterns. But these patterns identify common behaviours that not only can be used for modelling and targeting new customers but also can identify that ‘freaky fact’, that nugget of truth that provides a brand, or a creative, with a competitive advantage or point of differentiation.

Creative thinking is not just about creating ideas to which people react, but also in creating ideas from their actions, or lack of action. Audience behavioural data can often be the golden ticket to that insight.

Behavioural data is merely the latest step in defining the target audience. Even as far back as the Mad Men days, the more you knew about who you were talking to, the greater the likelihood of coming up with an idea that slays everyone from the CEO to the customer.

When working with a sofa retailer in the UK, the Quantcast team identified that their online audience were over indexing with online pet and puppy training websites in the three months before consumers actually arrived on the sofa retailer’s website. The ‘why’ behind the data pattern is quickly obvious for anyone who has recently brought a four-legged friend into the household – and whose soft furnishings have suffered as a result.

The data unveiled this ‘freaky fact’ and real consumer insight that, when leveraged creatively throughout the consumer journey, has the potential to connect on a deeper emotional level than any other communication talking about comfort, design, or price.

Learning from the insights and the data the machines provide can lead to more effective and impactful creative executions. Or at the very least, offer the seed of an idea that will help the brand grow.

As we enter the AI era where machine learning can inspire human learning, we will have access to exponentially more powerful tools for us to use as we create.

Data, when used well, is a 21st century tool every creative should have in their tool kit. To ignore the potential of data in aiding creativity is to ignore a huge source of inspiration.

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