Noëlle Newbold
Dec 5, 2022

The dangerous dance between data and creativity

Find the sweet spot to build your bottom line.

Noëlle Newbold, group creative director, Basic/DEPT.
Noëlle Newbold, group creative director, Basic/DEPT.

As the tidal wave of data grows at hyperspeed, it threatens to crush creativity. Great and unusual ideas are being mercilessly pulled out to sea until they become so watered down, they’re unrecognisble. 

This isn’t a new problem in the creative world, which has always had research and focus groups. But that’s nothing compared to the watchful eye of today’s Big Tech platforms. 

Some people believe that creatives don’t like data. Nothing could be further from the truth. Good creatives live and die for a great brief with a meaty problem to solve and key audience data to reference. This actually allows more freedom to solve problems in a creative way. 

But there’s a sweet spot between a lack of and an overabundance of data that is key to developing the best creative in the business—that results in brand love as well as a boost to the bottom line.  

Stop the creative briefs that read like data paint-by-numbers 

I’ve seen briefs that are so packed with data that if printed, would use more paper than my kindergartner’s backpack on the last day of school. So much research that AI could come up with the formula to success. To a point, this is good. It tells us what’s going to be popular, or who’s going to click the buy button if we change the CTA. But too much data can lead to analysis paralysis. 

Learning how to write a creative brief is as important a skillset as conceptual thinking and design execution. Be disciplined. Identify the key data points and make sure they ladder up to a real and new insight. Then cut the rest to get the best out of your creative team.

If there’s no data available, test innovative, daring or fresh creative

It protects everyone from failure, but it can also breed complacency. Insufficient data, however, can also strangle creativity. Have a new idea? Don’t expect it to live unless you have data to back up its success. 

Former Netflix creative execs are worried that new films or shows with diverse points of view will not survive without data to back up their success (or failure). Priorities are instead focused on refining existing (and sometimes tired) formulas. 

Creativity, by definition, involves imagination and new ideas—yet so often, we’re stifled by the need to prove the efficacy of an idea before it has a chance to blossom. Before you dust off the “tried and tested” playbook, challenge yourself and the people around you to try something new and curious.

Take a step back from the data—and take a risk or two

A recent example of great creative paying off is canned water company Liquid Death. Now approaching unicorn status, it is currently the most followed beverage brand in the U.S., with content that has generated 21 billion impressions (two times more than Red Bull). Peter Pham, co-founder of VC firm Science Inc, an investor in Liquid Death, attributes success to its creative marketing, environment-friendly packaging and a loyal fan base. 

Great creative is in touch with culture. In a recent ad, Liquid Death partnered with HeadCount to take aim at a controversial law passed in Georgia last year criminalizing distributing food or water to voters in line at polling places. The satirical ad sold Election Hydration Kits for US$1 and asked, “Do you live in Georgia? Do you have to drink water to stay alive? Do you want to participate in democracy? Too bad!” They sold out in one day. 

I encourage teams to look at young brands that don’t have access to big money and must take risks to cut through the noise. To quote Warren Berger, “The less money, status and power you have as a promoter of any kind, the more you’re forced to create your own unique brand of showmanship.” 

Give creatives time to ideate and let the subconscious work

Some creatives are alarmed by the possibility of AI design tools producing one-size-fits-all formulas for success. But I believe only human creativity allows for non-linear, surprising ideas, and will continue to open our world to new perspectives. 

Creativity has a touch of intuition and gut feeling. Brands are fighting to engage their audiences with formulas and data, yet the brands that will win don’t strangle fresh, intuitive ideas. They will be the brands that find the illusive sweet spot between data and creativity. 

Bill Bernbach once said, “Creativity is the last unfair advantage we're legally allowed to take over our competitors.” Creativity isn’t linear. It’s messy. The best ideas come from unlikely places. So step away from the spreadsheets from time to time and give your creative teams space to let the subconscious work its magic.

Noëlle Newbold is group creative director, Basic/DEPT.

Campaign US

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