The Luddites were right. Kind of.

Posted on Wednesday 03 March 2021 | Dom Waghorn - Strategy Director, SYZYGY

Dom Waghorn, Strategy Director at SYZYGY, explores how data and creativity can support one another and lead to brave campaigns that resonate with audiences

One of the most common criticisms of marketing is that it just doesn’t reflect real people. 

But what if it did more than that? What if marketing precisely represented real people?

In a recent presentation from Daniel Verten, Director of WPP AI, he suggested that the future of personalisation could be a dystopian world where hyper-relevance means not just always seeing people like you in ads. Instead you see the real you. In all ads. Because the data says we are more likely to engage/click when things are personally relevant.  

This is all ignoring the glaring fact that most people don’t actually want Minority Report. The personalisation and commercial messaging in that film was supposed to be disturbing, rooted in dark futureshock. It warned of an extreme future and was intended to make us question an eventuality where technology is leading. 

And yet the drive for hyper-personalisation adds still more fuel to the fire for those who believe that a focus on data above everything kills the creative spark.  

Much of the debate is less dystopian and more prosaic. The argument there is that dashboards, dynamic creative production and short-term thinking is killing not only creativity but also the ability to build brands long term. 

That data-led approaches snuff out the inspirational spark and lead to carbon-copy creative by not accounting for human input. 

In our experience this creates another false duality. It sets luddites against nerds. The precious creatives and IP holders against the boring data scientists.  

In reality you can take the best of both worlds to inspire creative bravery – and we are going to have to. Data isn’t going to go away, and according to Verten, AI isn’t going to replace humans’ ability to generate great creative ideas any time soon (his estimate – 200 years).

The challenge is in how, when and where to plug data into the creative process. Our work with a global healthcare client shows how data can be used to unleash more interesting creative ideas.

Take toothpaste. Few other healthcare formats use such rigid, highly formulaic approaches. Take one dentist in a white coat for their medical opinion, and add lots of shiny apples and astonishingly white grins. It’s hard to argue the muse of inspiration strikes regularly in oral care campaign.

Instead, we’ve been running experiments that actively encourage ideas coming from outside of these category norms. These are then tested against controls - proving that a bit of bravery can cut through and resonate a lot more, if given the chance.

The data here leads a fresh approach for the brand, backed up by stats to stop the internal client process from driving the creative back to safe crunchy apple territory. It’s deployed to select and shape campaign inspiration – it’s not the foundation of the idea itself. 

Internally, this also passes organisational client tests. Many internal processes weaken bold creative ideas due to lack of proof. Too risky, especially when budgets are on the line. Why change tried and tested approaches when we know they will work – at least, to a certain extent?

Instead, you bake the proof into the process. Creatives love it – their briefs are open and more exciting. And the business loves it because it is able to balance risk. 

Most importantly, it connects with customers. That brand sticks in the memory rather than being another anonymous white coat.  

It’s worth remembering that the luddites weren’t anti-progress. They believed in skilled workers harnessing the new tech, rather than unskilled workers taking over new techniques that they didn’t understand.  

This is where we are going with data fuelled creative – driving towards the best of both worlds. Balancing the brave and bold, with proof points that encourage creative risks and break the norm.

Written by

Dom Waghorn

Strategy Director, SYZYGY


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