22 Nov 2017.

Does big data help creativity and how?

Text: Ivan Kovačević, Bruketa&Žinić&Grey Digital Director

Photo: Domagoj Kunić

Is marketing industry becoming too dependent on tech companies who own and manage data that fuels our business. Are they taking over our creative as well? Text: Ivan Kovačević, Bruketa&Žinić&Grey Digital Director


Mad Man vs. Math Man

If you Google the term “data killing creative” you will be presented with 2,1 million results on the subject. “Big data” is not that cool a buzzword anymore. Today the challenge lies in cutting through the noise in the data and coming up with meaningful insights, aka small chunks of data that’s been interpreted in a way to help decision making. This will enable us marketers to gain valuable insights about our audience and personalize our message down to the single person. To better understand this topic, we need to look at a few examples that will better illustrate what’s happening in the data vs creativity topic.

Brands are struggling to tell their story to the customers more than ever. This happens primarily because of the noise that’s present in various communication channels. The challenge on how to tell a story and come up with a killer creative is harder than ever. Many industry experts are debating on whether data is the fuel for creativity or the very reason that’s stopping creative juices of marketers flowing.

Content is king, context is God

“Content used to be king, but context is God”, said Gary Vaynerchuk. We must respect the platform we are producing our content for and the way audience uses the platform. The same person is using different social networks for different purposes. If we don’t take this into account whilst developing creative content we are not going to resonate with the audience.

Only a few years back content and advertising teams could still function by a silos principle. Not anymore. The lines between advertising and content marketing are almost non-existent, or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to be. The reasons for this are first and foremost Google and Facebook which are takin a huge chunk of marketing budget. The importance of paid channels and native for distributing content has grown exponentially in the recent years. To succeed in creating killer content and creative we as marketers are obliged to come up with precisely targeted, personalized, channel agnostic stories. That is the only way that will enable our messages to stay relevant to our target audiences.

Despite great technology advancements and data overload a huge amount of audience segmentation these days is still done mostly by demographics and geographic. If you follow a brief that says that your target audience are “Women 35-45 that live in big cities” you basically communicate the same message to your conservative mother of three that who works in your local grocery store and your single woman who spends her days biking, traveling and doesn’t even own a TV. This, sort of traditional approach doesn’t consider one of the most important things that defines every person – personality.


Photo: YouTube

OCEAN of data

Fast forward to 2016 and the key keywords that arise are “Brexit”, “Trump”, that village in Macedonia where local hackers built fake news websites to earn some bucks from Google and Facebook.

Perhaps one of the most interesting stories is the one about controversial Cambridge Analitica and its CEO Alexander Nix. He is not the first person to use Big data and psychographics in marketing but he took most of the credit. The debate has been going on on whether this whole story is fake. Regardless of that the model that’s been used in his research is nothing new.

His company’s main area of expertise is psychographics, understanding of one’s personality. Big idea behind this is the fact that personality drives behaviour and behaviour influences people’s actions – weather is it choosing your telecom provider, beer brand, car or airline. The framework he used is the infamous OCEAN personality model (Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Extraversion, and Neuroticism), apparently the cutting edge in experimental psychology. By having hundreds of thousands of Americans undertake his survey his team could form a model that enabled him to predict the personality of every single adult in United States of America.

The idea here is to know which messages are going to appeal to what audiences before we even start thinking about creative process. To accomplish this, we collect countless data points but it all comes down to aggregating various sorts of data, be it demographics data (age, gender, religion…), psychographics (consumer and lifestyle data) and personality or behavioural data. After that all we must do is create a killer creative. More on that later.

Photo: YouTube

Let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture – Mr Frank Underwood

One of the most interesting fields where new creativity is growing at an exponential rate is the movie and television industry. However, this doesn’t imply we are talking about Hollywood.

John Landgraf, CEO of cable network FX raised a few eyebrows last year by saying “There’s a whole thing going on in Netflix right now and in Silicon Valley saying ‘we’re going to use algorithms to make creative decisions. I say ‘posh.”

Few would agree with Mr. Landgraf. The fact the power in the entertainment industry business is shifting north to the Silicon Valley and it’s all because of clever usage of data. “House of Cards”, “Stranger Things”, “Orange is the New Black” are primarily examples of this trend. Amazon will film up to 12 original movies per year for its platform; Youtube RED will be the place to watch 10 original movies this year. Leading the pack is of course Netflix, the pioneer of this trend which is investing heavily in new original content. What we are seeing here is the overwhelming amount of content being thrown at audiences. But are these shows any good?

If we look at the viewing data and award nominations they are among the best content ever recorded for the big and small screen in this decade. In the 2015. Golden Globe awards Netflix and Amazon received more nominations that the top four broadcast networks combined. Creativity is thriving thanks to data driven companies.

The question being asked is not if Amazon’s and Netflixes of this world are using data to make creative decisions. They are doing it. The question is how and to what extent. The answer is – to great extent. From the birth of the audio and visual media the main source of power was control of how content was created and how it was distrusted. People who could control those two things were in driving seat.

In most of the cases media industry veterans would sit in a room and make predictions on what movies and shows should be greenlighted and how would they appeal to the target demographic. Then the most appropriate slot for screening on a certain network would be chosen. Technology has shifted the source of power from the film and cable shows executives to the tech crowd.

Netflix decided to greenlight shows like Stranger Things and House of Cards not by sheer numbers of possible fans of various components of the future shows, be it an actor, director, theme, subject or something else. They knew precisely who those people were and thus could target and promote content based on their individual characteristic and high probability they would actually like the show.

This leads us to conclusion that today the most important thing to control is audience attention. Attention span is getting shorter and shorter, and to win the attention of the audience we must have relevant data that will help us in shaping the message. The power lies in the hands of the organizations who can gain access to the data that manages people’s attention and the platforms and tools that are collecting and analysing that data. Without it creatives would simple don’t work.


Giving data back to the people

I think we can all agree on the fact that that is the fuel for creative thought. However, that data will soon be much less accessible than it is now, at least in EU. The reason for this is of course privacy issues.

Basically, us Europeans are pissed off at the Americans aka Facebook and Google which have become so powerful by feeding on our data that they now have enough money to influence Washington and they are not afraid to pay huge amount of both legal fees and penalties. More than 90% of Europeans said they want the same data protection rights in the EU, regardless of the fact where their data is processed. This is of course aimed at big tech companies in US. Proposed solution for this problem is the already conservative EU GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), Europe’s new framework for data protection laws that replaces two decades old data protection directive. GDPR will come into effect in May 2018, too soon for many. This will completely change the way business handle data, how data is collected, stored and handled with. In short, every person will have much more control over how their personal data is used and for what purposes. The idea is to force every organization to manipulate with personal data transparently, whilst being 100% clear why certain personal information is being collected. Organizations will be obliged to gain approval from individuals whose data it is stored.

It’s probably the most important law change in data privacy in two decades. It will put the control of personal information back in the hands of people, at least that’s the idea. This will make it much harder for companies and marketers to manipulate with data and hopefully it won’t cripple the creative process.

I am positive GDPR framework will put an end to at least some part of shady business with data but most of the companies including marketers have not taken it seriously. The ones who didn’t will be very unpleasantly surprised, mostly by pricey fines. On top of this, domestic legislative in EU countries has not been adjusted accordingly and the time is running out. All this will have a significant impact on marketers. If we can’t store data we can’t gain insights on our target audience and their affinities, thus we can’t use data in our creative processes.

Robots as designers

Imagine a scenario from the Cambridge Analitica example where you could target every adult person with a different message based on their personality traits. This would be impossible to do. In comes the Dynamic creative. Simply put it is creative that changes automatically based on information about the user whether it is their location, demography, location, context or something else. We’ve seen a lot of missuses of this kind of creative in the same way as Google’s adds showing up at the inappropriate places.

At last year’s Director’s Showcase at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity agency Saatchi & Saatchi applied with an AI-created film. The challenge for them was: Can a film be made by machines move you?” The Film Crew featured AI programs like IBM’s Watson, Microsoft’s Rima, Affectiva facial recognition software, custom neural art technology and EEG data. Under the pseudonym of Anni Mathison they produced the Eclipse, a music video that was a combination of photographs, music and live action. The fact that it’s the AI made movie wasn’t revealed until the very end. Is this the future of creativity or should we, the people, take the control back from AI?



Back to the Future

We live in a world of real time marketing. We do our research, come up with creative solution and launch campaigns. Instead of sitting back and waiting on ratings in few weeks’ time we get real time feedback on our work. Better yet, we have the tools to adjust or even completely change our message on the go. By not taking full advantage of tools like this just because of the fact we are afraid of the unknown, afraid that we are not as important as we once were we as an industry are not going to progress.

No matter how big the data it is still dependent on people. That’s why we must invest in bringing in experts with various analytical backgrounds who will help us make sense of the data. I am a believer that data, big or small, is enhancing creativity. It is not replacing our great creative minds, maybe just hurting some big egos. Data is helping us better understand our audience. It is enabling us to tell a better, more effective, sometimes even great emotional story that will, along with getting our message through, enhance people lives. Isn’t this why we are in all of this for?

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