Big data vs creativity: Is it a useless question?

By Candide McDonald | 3 October 2014

What's more valid? Big data or creativity? Is that even a question we should be asking?

Ben Cooper, group innovation director at M&C Saatchi, has devoted his whole chapter in the industry book Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief: Advertising’s Next Generation to balancing data and creativity. “The data we create knows a lot about us. Sometimes more than we do,” he admits. “But we’re in danger of limiting the future by the actions of the past.”

Some of you were around when qualitative and quantitative research achieved powers usually relegated only to the despotic leaders of authoritarian regimes. That time produced some of the most tiresome campaigns the world has seen since the ’50s, when advertising copywriters preached utter nonsense to the minions with god-like authority.

Most people don’t respond particularly well to tiresome advertising, which is exactly what adland
eventually worked out. Big ideas that bore people to death tend not to do the job.

“Creativity, by nature of the word, involves a level of originality and surprise,” writes Cooper. “It not only plays on what has come before (ideas, texts, genres, interpretations) but seeks new ground. It is not only the track beaten down behind but the rocks, crags and waterfalls ahead too.”

Couldn’t have said it better, Ben.

Cooper is not panning data. He wants us to use it, not for rules, but as a scout for opportunities.
“As media companies begin to forge creative capabilities and creative companies become more media savvy, we edge towards the brave new world of an agency capable of a holistic approach with laser accuracy and intuition.”

And yes, he noted exactly what you just did too: “The irony is that is where we came from ...” And,
maybe the laser accuracy part is a stretch. Big data doesn’t draw its own conclusions. Humans do.

Here is Cooper’s last word, which may well turn out to be ‘the last word’ on the subject:

“But now we need to return, head and heart joined, and ready to take a risk.”

Also weighing into the debate about creativity and big data in the latest issue of AdNews are:

Tom Spicer – Exceutive creative director at Arnold Furnace

Clinton Duncan – Creative director at Moon

Rob Morrision – Creative director at OgilvyOne

Simon Langley – Executive creative director at JWT Sydney

To read the full Creative Focus feature, pick up the latest issue of AdNews in print, out today (3 October). Subscribe to the print mag here or get it on iPad.

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