Sometimes numbers tell a story.
When Culver City, Calif.-based agency Pitch was working on new creative for Public Storage, staffers found inspiration where they least expected it: in the stats. Data provided to the creatives showed that while 75% of people use storage space when moving to a new residence, a quarter of those who use it do so simply for more room. Sara Bamossy, chief strategy officer and partner at Pitch, was struck by this. "What does more space mean?" she asked. Further research answered: More space triggers "empowerment, excitement ... because it was about making room for something good in your life," she said.
While some creatives remain leery of "data"—that catchall for everything from focus group research to social media analytics to campaign metrics, all mucking up the organic process—brands and their agencies are finding that data is a must-have element of the work.
Since 2015, when Cannes launched its Creative Data Lions—notably choosing not to award a Grand Prix for the category—the festival powers that be have introduced even more data-related trophies. Last year, the Digital Craft Lions were born, adding subcategories including Curation of Data and Data Visualization to the mix of digital-centric awards. This year, the Creative Effectiveness Lions tack on accolades for "the measurable impact of creativity," a decidedly numbers-focused arena. All told, there are 11 disciplines in the Creative Data category at Cannes this year, including Data Driven Targeting and Data Storytelling.
"The positive of data is that sometimes it helps you understand something that's right in front of your face," said Bamossy. "I don't know very many creatives, especially talented ones, who would say, 'Please don't give me more information.' "
But the data disdain is real. Even before Cannes launched its Creative Data Lions, some of the top creative minds in advertising had come out swinging. John Hegarty called the focus on data-centric decisions for branding "nonsense," arguing at Cannes 2014 that because everyone will have access to identical data, creatives risked conjuring up so much sameness rather than truly innovative and fresh brand concepts.
Writing in the Financial Times this January, Hegarty reaffirmed his stance, contending that "data are fundamentally important in the building of a market. ... But what it cannot do is create an emotional bond with the consumer." Others say data is a crutch, an impediment to creativity. Reading through reams of information crammed into spreadsheets and displayed in visualization software is distracting, and does not yield eye-opening insights.
The fear of data that John Immesoete, chief creative officer and exec VP for the agency arm of data giant Epsilon, sees from some traditional agency creatives reminds him "of conversations that were had many years ago where there were creatives that thought computers were going to ruin everything." The danger for some agencies is that they may not know how to apply all the newer types of information at their disposal, he said.
"Strategists and creatives have always had that tension," said Bamossy. Some creatives have always looked upon the research department with suspicion, added Immesoete.
By the time Dan Kelleher, chief creative officer at Deutsch, is involved in discussions about data, the analytics team has crunched numbers about competitors in the market, or parsed charts and graphs about consumers, distilling them to an essence of key information to inspire creative.
That's the sort of process that led him and his team to shift from an original hypothesis about how people use Sherwin-Williams' Krylon spray paint. While historically the paint has been used to cover rust, research data revealed a lesser-known use that was gaining ground among crafty types who use the paint to transform household goods and furniture. The information led to a 2016 campaign that included the "First Ever Pinterest Yard Sale," in which Krylon representatives bought "690 miles of worthless items" like old watering cans and tennis rackets, spruced them up using Krylon paint and sold them on Pinterest. Proceeds went to the nonprofit Charity Wings Art & Craft Center and the campaign won a 2016 Titanium Lion at Cannes, in addition to a Silver Integrated and Bronze Cyber Lion.
"I see data as overwhelmingly positive," said Kelleher. "It helps guide where creative is going to go."