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Guest Column: Abusing the creative with the four-letter word ‘Data’: Sahil Siddiqui, WATConsult

27-December-2017
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Guest Column: Abusing the creative with the four-letter word ‘Data’: Sahil Siddiqui, WATConsult

When I meet fellow creatives concerned about the growing influence of data and bemoaning the changing role of 'the creative' in advertising, I show them Dear Data, a personal postcard project between two information designers manually illustrating their life's data points.

Fun, colourful, creative, personal - all the qualities of great advertising, yet unflinchingly about data (maybe more so, than most award-winning, supposedly data-propelled ad campaigns.)

While there’s a lot of digital ink being spent on propounding effectiveness of data as a tool for creativity; even though fair points, it has done so without addressing the pre-pervasive rift between ‘art’ and ‘business,’ the dichotomy on which the dominating unit called ‘AD AGENCY’ got cemented in the marketing world.

• Does creative now begin in the analytics corner?
• Is the ad being judged by completion scores and NOT the 'quality' of comments?
• Will my creative be shot down by the data results?

These are questions which have raised themselves but not many have confronted satisfactorily. Keep in mind that ‘answers’ may themselves sprout trickier riddles about the ‘qualification’ of the creative, the mental makeup of the creative and also the planning process of the ever-emerging new ad agency. All questions that will have to be answered soon with a heavy-hand.

Advertising too has to evolve in the era of infobesity and there is enough Data to support the notion. We all know, more Indian’s are going online, more location services and check-ins are increasing, more agencies are coming up, more brands and platforms are growing too.

But what steps are being taken to make data a welcome member of the creative brainstorm session?

Is it always going to force its way in?

The apprehension toward data-creativity is more interesting to me than the output of such creativity.

The traditional creative prides in being ‘human;’ more human than the audience he’s hoping to influence. He’s the alien observer, the invisible confidante or the surprise wish-giver. There's pride in spotting a habit and observing an emerging trend. That's the place where all art, literature, music and culture reside. ‘Subjective’ is the keyword.

Data on the other hand is ‘objective’ and ‘quantified’.

Data for consumer insight maybe perennially imperfect and ephemeral, but it’s relentless; will always hit the creative where it hurts most.

Thankfully, there’s some surprisingly human work being done by data inspiration like the Whirpool care counts, Spotify Billboards and Godrej flaunt to feed.

On a good day, I’d tell the creative about the opportunity of machine-learning and real-time analysis, about the Netflix category algorithm, but right away I’d want to start a conversation across all creative departments on their personal definitions of Advertising.

Whichever school of thought you subscribe to, if your definition includes respect for ‘audience understanding,’ you have scope (a need) for understanding data.

For years, data’s been in the judge’s chair – focus groups, sales reports, etc. Today, data’s pervasiveness begins way before the creative does. We need to slow down and rethink THE CREATIVE for a world where IBM Watson has been a constant presence at Cannes for a few years.

The only way to make ‘data’ acceptable to your creative team is to introduce the beauty of data beyond the context of work, for e.g. a media diet journal, monthly reading of Fitbit data or anything that can help us creatives see ourselves as a collection of data points beyond the emotions and physiology we proudly own.

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data” - Sherlock Holmes, “A Study in Scarlett” (Arthur Conan Doyle.)

Full disclosure here, I am creative-first myself and coming to accept ‘data’ in every aspect of my work just as I accepted that a brand film can be a series of 6 seconders and not one swooping 30 second masterpiece.

(The author is AVP Creative Strategy, WATConsult)
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com

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