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Admap Prize 2015: Be creative with data

Opinion, 02 June 2015

No issue divides the creative community quite like the contribution of data to the creative process. The term 'Big Data' is apt to foment fits of apoplexy in some, who view data as the enemy at the gates, a dagger to the heart of creativity. Others see data as a panacea for all marketing's ills, in a Holy Grail quest to form one-to-one relationships with customers, eliminating all marketing wastage.

Somewhere between these extremes there is a consensus view that the mass of data now being generated from consumer activity can be a positive if channelled appropriately. Data can assist the creative process, if it isn't allowed to suppress human instinct and ingenuity. It can help develop the big idea, or the little idea, as long as it doesn't frustrate the advent of a 'eureka light bulb moment'. Data can finesse the media strategy, as long as the human skill in media selection is not overridden by the attraction of the algorithmic efficiencies inherent in programmatic media buying.

But there is a tension between data and creativity. This tension is identified in the entries to this year's Admap Prize, which posed the question 'Does Big Data Inspire or Hinder Creative Thinking?' I think the question gets to the heart of the debate and anxiety around data.

As was evident in the nearly one hundred essays entered for the Prize, there are a wide range of views. There was skepticism towards the importance placed on data, often stemming from the over-claims, and even false claims, made for Big Data. Yet, recognition for the contribution of data to the creative idea, in award winning campaigns such as the Nike+ FuelBand and the British Airways 'Magic of Flying' campaigns.

There are evident opportunities for creativity fuelled by data. An obvious one is in personalisation of the communication – engaging with relevant content and stimulating reciprocity. Another is in using data to refine the creative communication, through prototyping. Creative failure can be reduced by getting an idea out there and then continuously improving it, informed by data tracking and feedback. Of course, the biggest opportunity is the application of data in helping understand the consumer better so as to form insights for creative strategy, an analytical catalyst for the big idea, exemplified by 'The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty', which was built on the data-driven insight that 'only 4% of women consider themselves beautiful'.

So, while we accept that the Creative needs to control the data and not the other way around, the proliferation of consumer data – every day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data – cannot be ignored in the creative process. Indeed that process needs to adapt to embrace the opportunities.

Key to the successful employment of data, it seems, is to not get overwhelmed by terms like Big Data. Too much data can be a hindrance to creativity. The rule is 'less is more' – smaller volumes of data can be more easily examined for a valuable insight that leads to a timely reaction to the business challenge.

Instead, let us see Big Data as another tool – no more, no less – that allows us to turn information into imagination. Don't let the Maths Men rule the Mad Men.

So congratulations to the winners in this year's Prize. And to everyone who contributed an essay. The quality of thinking was extremely high. Our distinguished panel of judges have taken a great deal of learning from them. So, even if you didn't win this year, you can take great credit for contributing to the debate. To our readers, I hope you find the essays as stimulating as our judges did.

About the author

Colin Grimshaw is Editor of Admap. He has spent ten years in media and marketing journalism as writer and editor for publications including The Financial Times, MediaGuardian, The Independent, Campaign Media Business, Marketing and Media Week.

Prior to entering journalism, he had a 12-year career in publishing management, holding senior executive positions at The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Telegraph and Guardian Media Group.