While entries to Cannes Lions' Creative Data category decreased in 2021 versus prior years, the quality of work has been elevated, according to the category's jury president, as advertisers explored how data can change behaviour, create better customer experiences and even transform government policy.
Maurice Riley, who is the chief data officer for Digitas Australia, told Campaign: "Data use was not just about clever targeting, interesting visualisations and clever stunts. More work proved how data artistry offered real tangible value to brands—it put data into action to change behaviour, create better customer experiences and even transform governmental policy."
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The Creative Data category has matured in its sixth year open for nominations. "When it started in 2015 the category was a lot of beautifully visualised existing data, targeting using data and the occasional AI use for AI sake," Riley said. "Those uses are just table stakes now."
There were three key themes that emerged in the category this year that signalled how the creative application of data is transcending typical advertising, according to Riley.
The emergence of 'data artistry'
Riley said there were several examples of work in which the "ingenious use and integration of datasets was just as inspiring and fantastical as the verbal or visual campaigns it fuelled".
"We were able to celebrate the data artistry just as much as the verbal and visual artistry," Riley said.
An example of this is 'The [Uncertain] Four Seasons' project by AKQA and Jung von Matt, in partnership with Crosthwaite, The Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and Monash University's Climate Change Communication Research Hub. The collaborators created an algorithm that altered Vivaldi's musical score to account for predicted changes in climate, using 300 years of weather data.
"[The use of data] was expected," said Riley. "What was unexpected and beautifully done was how it incorporated biodiversity data of things like butterfly and bird populations and algorithmically mapped those to motifs in the music."
Creative problem-solving versus creative campaigns to solve the problems
There was more work that reframed creativity through problem solving by creatively putting data into action, and the final solutions were not always a “data-driven creative campaign”, Riley noted.
"I believe adland sometimes paints itself into a corner with what creativity means," he said.
The Grand Prix winner, 'Saylists', exemplified this perfectly, he said. Created by Rothco for Warner Music Group, the campaign used machine learning to analyse over 70 million songs and curated targeted playlists on Apple Music aimed at helping children with speech therapy.
"One in 12 children suffer from speech issues. I am sure all of them hate repetition therapy to overcome difficult words. Warner Music created a new way for people to discover music in their library, stream more music, and do some good in the process," said Riley.
Data made tangible
One other key theme that emerged was work that continued to dispel the belief that data is ephemeral.
'Notable work proved data can be a physical thing and is a tangible asset that drives business growth," commented Riley.
Examples ranged from usable products with continual data feeds at the core of product design to perennial consumer experiences that created new forms of data. The Gold Lions winner of 'Laugh tracker' created a new data set from a human emotion and drove a significant ROI for the tourism industry in Tennessee.
APAC can do better
There were 364 entries to the Creative Data category for the combined 2020 and 2021 awards, compared to 429 entries in 2019. Just 12 winners were awarded, which is only slightly down from 2019's 13 Lions.
Of the 25 pieces of 2020 and 2021 work from the shortlist, only two were from Asia-Pacific. One piece of work submitted from APAC won a Lion—Ogilvy's '#NotJustACadburyAd' for Mondelez India, which won a Bronze Lion. The rest of the winners were spread across the UK (2), the US (2), Canada (2) Ireland, Germany, Switzerland and Croatia. Australia got a credit in a campaign submitted from Brazil—AKQA's 'Code of conscience' for the Raoni Institute developed by AKQA São Paulo and AKQA Melbourne, which won a Silver Lion.
"We can do better APAC," commented Riley. "We have a wealth of talent, wonderful brands and a beautifully diverse cultural lens through which to tell brand stories or create positive change."
"I am committed to making sure APAC has a better showing in this category next year," he added.
Inside the jury room
While judging took place virtually this year, Riley said the jury were still able to have the camaraderie "as if we were all on the Promenade de la Crossiette". The jury members created WhatsApp groups and had several video chats before the judging started, so they could get to know each other's hopes for the future of the Creative Data category.
Riley said the jury aligned to clear criteria for what was medal-worthy work, but also had "wildly different opinions and interpretations of some of the work".
"Conflicting views is the point of having a global, diverse jury," he said. "For instance, some of our jurors from countries where GDPR is the law of the land had fierce debates with jurors from countries where data laws were emerging and there was more openness to certain 1:1 targeting techniques."
"I was honoured to serve as president and help bring out positive tension and facilitate debate. This allowed for the 'cream to rise to the top' and the best work to be recognised and honoured," Riley added.
Having two years of work to go through "did not impact judging", Riley said. "Although it was not by design, the shortlisted work we considered for a Gold, Silver, Bronze or the Grand Prix was equally distributed across both years."