Wirz Group’s Kathrin Jesse examines WARC Awards for Media: Best Use of Data entries from Emirates NBD, Allianz Insurance and Water Safety New Zealand.

Data is on everyone’s lips. The creative use of data is touted by companies, digital players and creative agencies alike as a panacea for all situations in life. Yet it is often not at all clear what data enables us to do. What are specific problems in communication that can be solved with the help of data?

In this year's WARC Awards for Media: Best Use of Data, there were quite a few submissions that used a data-driven approach to improve effectiveness. ‘Informative campaigns’ were actually the most frequently submitted strategy in the 2021 Best Use of Data category.

How can a data-driven approach help target, with the greatest precision, those people for whom the campaign content is intended and who will benefit most?

  1. Creativity and data are not opposites

There is a lot of talk about whether data kills creativity. In fact, there are cases that show how data-driven insights can drive the effectiveness of the creative output.

Example: Emirates NBD: The wise one

With the impact of the economic crisis, many signs in the marketplace pointed to the fact that people are becoming more financially cautious.

As a leading bank, Emirates NBD wanted to make financial knowledge accessible to all by showing its customers how its premium products can help to make financially wise decisions while living a more fulfilled life.

The human truth, derived from data analysis and good old human intelligence, is that financial prudence should not come at the expense of one's enjoyment of life.

Customer transaction data was used to derive ‘The Wise Ones’, real customers who were very financially savvy but maximized their lifestyle and experiences with a smart use of bonus systems and rewards. How can bonus miles be used to book great hotel rooms? Where can you get discounts on restaurant meals? Which bonus systems can be combined and how? These stories were implemented in a series of social media films and distributed through data-driven retargeting.

The campaign outperformed all KPIs in customer acquisition and significantly increased customer interest.

Learnings: We see that real customer transaction data can be the foundation of human insight (people want to enjoy their lives despite financial uncertainty) and the backbone of a campaign that tells stories.

These stories had great relevance for a brand in the financial industry in a specific cultural-social context – a global economic crisis – by integrating the wise use of its products with extreme proximity to everyday life. The target group profited from tangible tips on how to improve their own lives every day, despite all limitations of our time.

  1. Data helps to activate ‘unreachable’ target groups

Smart targeting is very important for effectiveness and efficiency reasons, we know that. But what if we have a specific target group that we cannot address according to GDPR?

Example: Allianz Life Insurance: Diabetes-driven workaround

For diabetics, it is almost impossible to claim term life insurance because of pre-existing conditions. On 1 April 2020, Allianz launched Germany's first term life insurance specifically for diabetics. It was a revolutionary innovation with a message that is highly relevant for diabetics. However, diabetics are a niche target group in Germany and may not be addressed directly due to GDPR guidelines.

With events such as World Diabetes Day cancelled due to COVID-19, conventional advertising was considered too broad for such a niche audience. Due to data protection restrictions there were no data segments that would identify diabetics as such – data had to be rethought entirely.

Using results from a media market study and the company’s own comparative data, a potential target audience was clustered by address likelihood, and various digital data sources that created the foundation for cluster matching and programmatic targeting. An emotional video campaign directed people to the website with native and display ads.

The campaign was a success: 90% of diabetics were reached and 20% of total contacts were made from scratch. The customer data included website visitors, visitors to diabetes websites, search engine data from users who searched for diabetes-related keywords, data from apps linked to readings connected to diabetes, and geo-location data from diabetes centers.

Learnings: When challenged to bring together a highly relevant, positive message with a niche audience that could not be targeted with available standardized methods, the solution can be an intelligent combination of freely available data to create your own data segment, enabling the activation of this specific ‘unreachable’ audience.

  1. Data are probabilities that predict the future

Effectiveness means achieving goals. In communication, we usually start with the target group, how they behave, where they move. Then we try to use these patterns to put the right message in the right place at the right time. This approach is not always the most effective. Alternatively, we can start from the communicative goal and develop the communicative approach from there.

Example: Water Safety New Zealand: Personalizing Danger

Preventable drownings plague New Zealand summers every year. To combat this, Water Safety New Zealand introduced the ‘Swim Reaper’, an anti-social influencer warning young men of the dangers of their behavior in the water, which aimed to reduce the number of drowning-related deaths to zero.

Young men don't like to be told anything, and certainly don't like to be forbidden from doing anything. It was hardly possible to encourage the target group to behave less dangerously – good advice is turned into the opposite.

The solution was not to start from the behavior of the young men at all, but to find out when and under what circumstances the deaths occurred. What if you could tell which weather conditions, types of water, currents, tides, times of day, geographic conditions, and behaviors typically cause drowning-related deaths?

The goal was to point out specific dangers via geo-targeting and in real-time. Data from 40 years of historical drowning accidents was accumulated. Bertha, a prediction engine, was developed. Bertha’s predictions were aligned with audience geo-targeting and messaging in social media posts.

In the campaign, Swim Reaper encouraged unsafe water behaviors, which proved to be an effective way to prevent drowning accidents among a recalcitrant target audience. The anti-influencer used the observation that young men don't like to be told what to do, counterintuitively saving lives. The campaign reached 95% of the target audience and brought drown-related deaths down to zero.

Learnings: It paid off to change the conventional approach, to examine conditions that lead to drowning deaths and make the occurrence of those conditions the core message. Targeting in real-time and geospatial data made the warnings concrete and relevant. The clever creative execution was in tune with the psyche of young men, leading to acceptance and maximising impact.

An abridged version of this article appears in WARC's Report, What's working in data-driven marketing 2022.