Big data has been a buzzword over the past few years. The debate about whether it is a game-changer or another fad is still on. Are big data and creativity parallel concepts that can never meet or are converging as we speak?
Creativity often seems to appear out of thin air, in a dream, in the shower, or after a two hour shouting match with colleagues. But the theory of relativity could not have been imagined by someone who was not a physicist and who had not done the necessary research on the subject before-hand. Even Archimedes’s ‘Eureka’ moment came after significant time spent thinking about the problem, whilst relaxing in the bath. So clearly, a solid understanding of the issue at hand is crucial for coming up with creative ideas. But when does too much information become counterproductive? Data, especially for the ‘creative’ types has always been the antithesis of originality. It is the strict headmistress beating down on that weird kid to conform.
Over the past few years, data has morphed into The Hulk. The term ‘big data’ merely represents a crushing tidal wave of random, unstructured information waiting to drown you and overwhelm your traditional analysis system. But recently, it has undergone a makeover. Big data is now sexy. It provides cold, hard evidence to the chaos of creative thinking. Need to bring finance over to your side – the dark side)? Speak their language: numbers. Shareholders, still bugging you about their investments? Big data will undoubtedly have the solution to your problems *cue 1950’s ad music*
By bringing to the table the credibility of numbers, big data will help solve the creative industry’s ‘science-envy’ complex. Still, the role of triggering visceral emotions in communication remains more important than ever in breaking into the consumer’s ivory tower.
While rigid at first sight, the multiple layers of big data could ideally be suited to reflect the reality of today’s complex consumer. Gone are the times when our understanding of the target audience is limited the dimensions of gender and age. Competition, clutter and customization have created a new ecosystem. Creativity now needs to draw from a more nuanced understanding of the consumer in order to deliver relevant originality which will not go unnoticed.
In an environment where a faux pas can cost brands millions in public backlash, big data can be used to test and optimize creative marketing copy or activations. It acts as a reality check, ensuring that creativity is delivering results to the client’s bottom line.
Another challenge facing creativity is overstimulation, making us immune to advertising. The most creative of messages today can be lost in the clutter unless they are delivered in a relevant manner. For media agencies, this is creativity that big data can achieve with increasing accuracy. Only a few years ago, I was being served ads encouraging me to click and find my ideal ‘Arab housewife’. Completely missing the mark, considering I am an Arab female. Of late, it seems that Facebook was being co-opted by my mother. The majority of ads I saw were either to ‘meet single men in your neighborhood’ or ‘lose weight fast’. But as native ads began infiltrating themselves into the natural flow of my surfing, the results have been more rewarding.
Last year, I purchased the entire Gibran Khalil Gibran series of Kindle books on Amazon, which knew that I lived in Hammersmith, London. A few days later, Facebook served me an ad to buy tickets for the premiere of a Gibran play ‘Rest Upon the Wind’ at the local Riverside Studios Theatre. Needless to say, I was thrilled to have discovered this local niche event, which might have otherwise gone unnoticed.
If brands are looking to make an impression rather than just buy impressions, they need to be more creative in targeting consumers with the right content in relevant moments.
At the end of the day, data – big or small – is a tool. It is a set of information at our disposal. It can help unearth groundbreaking insights for more creative campaigns or it can mislead marketers into a never ending vortex of meaningless figures. But really, it boils down to the people using it.
So the alarmists who are heralding the end of people’s role as big data and programmatic techniques become more prevalent, will soon be joining those who predicted the same fate for workers at the start of the industrial revolution – on the wrong side of history. Humans have adapted quite creatively to the evolution of technology. This calls for modifying Lavoisier’s Law of Conservation into “jobs are neither created nor destroyed, they are only ever-shifting”.
In fact, a recent McKinsey Global Institute report expects there will be almost half a million jobs in five years in the fields of data science, and a shortage of up to 190,000 qualified data scientists, in addition to a further 1.5 million executives and support staff who have an understanding of data.
Currently, the creative industries are drawing from pools of candidates in other fields including economics, mathematics, and statistics. But as teaching coding skills to children and teenagers becomes standard in curriculums, a new breed of creatives will emerge. One for which data and creativity are no longer on polar ends of the spectrum, but integrated functions working together for the greater good – or evil, depending on how you view marketers
Ultimately, big data is neither anti- nor pro-creativity. It’s what smart people and big thinking do with it that matters. Big data makes your communication smarter, big thinking makes it more creative.