Cannes Postscript: Marketing At The Crossroads Of Data And Creativity

The ad sector’s creative apparatus has a good deal of work cut out before it wraps its head around data to the extent media and digital agencies have. But to hear some tell it, analytics – or “insights” as many prefer – has begun to permeate campaign ideation.

In Cannes last week, AdExchanger talked with dozens of folks from all corners of the ad ecosystem, and the conversation often turned to how measurement (not to say “performance”) thinking can be married to creativity without cramping the “big idea.”  Read on for excerpts of those discussions.

Creative Analytics

Some performance-minded execs inside big creative agencies – yes, they exist – are working to extract business value from brand metrics, and then feed that back into the creative process. One such person is Marc Schwartz, who came up through digital agency SapientNitro to become global performance director at old-line agency McCann Erickson.

Here’s how he describes his approach:

“Previously everything has been evaluated by channels, and optimized for channels, but the customer experience isn’t within a channel. It’s amongst and throughout the channels. We realized this years ago in the digital space; the interrelationship between display and search is really clear. [So too] the interrelationship between paid and social conversation.

It’s trying to take it to a different level and say, what are the influencing KPI factors that actually drive the total brand experience. That’s where we as a creative agency can drive differently and uniquely.

I don’t want to do media mix thinking. I want to do brand performance architecture thinking. I want to do attribution at the broadest level of that definition. I don’t really care about channel. I care about message, and content, and experiences. It takes multiple experiences to create conversion, not just multiple channels.”

Schwartz is among a comparatively tiny group of execs at creative agencies tasked with demonstrating brand value across channels and messages. Of course the analytics tradition is better established within the creative departments at digital agencies. At Organic for instance, data frequently informs creative, and sometimes even learns from it.

Steve Kerho, Organic’s SVP strategy, media and analytics, puts it this way:

“Between analytics and creative and strategy, there’s this nice trifecta. We’ve had times when someone on the analytics team comes up with an idea for a campaign, and the creative team will run with it. And the creative team has come up with some great analytics measures, ideas for new models, and the analytics team runs with that.

Over time the creative team has finally learned that the analytics team is not there as some overlord, judging and taking the bad idea out of the mix. There are lots of times where, we come up with two campaigns and present them to the client, and the creative team feels very passionate about one of the ideas. The client decides to go with the safe one. Then my team will come back and say, “Let us take 15 percent of the impressions. We’ll create this campaign on our own dime. Let’s define what success looks like, and you just agree if we run this for a couple days, and this one’s performing better, you’ll let us go with that.”

That symbiosis between the idea makers and the information reapers is easier with an iterative marketing project, such as a website or app, than it is with a cross-channel ad campaign propelled by a big idea. Indeed, many “traditional” creative leaders frankly reject the idea that measurement should factor heavily into what they do.

Over an afternoon beer in Cannes, one well-known CCO with a global agency described audience buying and data-driven media as “all that stuff I know nothing about.” Another admitted to recent tensions between his creative team and a tech-savvy client rep with a global CPG company.

Creatives Get It

But by and large, execs polled by AdExchanger give the creative set improved marks on the data question. Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s VP, global marketing solutions (AdExchanger Q&A), said:

“There are plenty of people in Cannes this week who understand data. In the day-to-day creative, they don’t necessarily want more data. People are inundated with data. They want more insights. They want to understand how to make the most relevant and engaging content to that person based on the insights we know about them. The more analytics we can provide of the data that helps people make better choices around creative, that’s when this community from a creative standpoint will respond.

Ideas matter more now than they ever have, so no matter how much data we all have; no matter how many algorithms you want to look at across the different sites; no matter how many things have become automated, the truth is big ideas still dominate and are the most important thing.

The question from a creative standpoint is, ‘What can I use from an insights standpoint to help me get to the big idea?'”

It’s a question different stakeholders answer in different ways. Nick Pahade is North America CEO for Initiative and a veteran of digital agencies and startups (AdExchanger Q&A). He warns against making creative analytics sound to complicated:

“In order for [creatives’] work and their ideas to truly be appreciated we need to be able to prove success. That doesn’t always just mean how much XYZ products have gone of the shelves. It could also be how much social chatter was generated by your message and a whole variety of other analytics. At some point we want to get it to the point of what medium should be [credited] for what specific message, and try to get to that level of attribution. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but I think there’s a new appreciation here at Cannes around data, which I don’t think existed even two years ago.”

Part of the problem is a failure to connect the toolsets of creative and analytics for junior level agency staff. One example is Creative Suite 5, which two years ago integrated testing parameters directly into the software used to design ads. When the test and learn capability was added, McCann’s Schwartz recalls asking the Adobe team, “How is the creative ever going to know how to do that? They’re opting not to be connected enough with the analytics team to give guidance on asset creation.”

So do creative agencies need to establish A/B boot camp for producers and creative directors? Maybe. Schwartz again:

“You need to create a training model for creatives, because they have to be able to design differently for multivariate testing. When you take apart a piece of content and split it into components, those components need to flow together. If I really want to understand video content, video messaging, message type, you have to create differently.”

Schwartz says one approach is to bring in data vizualization pros as mediators between number crunchers and creative savants.

“I’ve often thought it’s a job for data visualization to be the conduit between analytics and creative – to tell the story. At almost every agency I’ve worked at, I’ve always felt it’s important to share results I’ve had with creative, so I would have a collaborative results sharing meeting where I’d have creative, strategy, accounts, and analytics together. We would show a data point and collaboratively talk about the data point. It was always interesting to see the unique spin.

Good planners can take customer insight data and turn it into a couple sentences. You need to be able to go back in the same way to creative.”

Creative Buy-In

But agencies don’t always commit to insights at the senior management level. One source who works in an analytics role at a creative agency expressed frustration at his lack of involvement in the creative process.  Without demonstrable understanding of how analytics drives creative value or business value, he said the stalwart players in the creative space simply won’t care.

“They’ll leave the deep analytics to the digital, to the media companies,” he said. “And those analytics people that you bring to bear will get impatient really quickly and go away.”

Gaston Legorburu, global chief creative officer at SapientNitro, strongly believes testing and measurement as a discipline creative should pursue. But he says measurement-oriented thinkers – both on the agency and client side — would do well to respect the craft of brand building practiced for decades by members of the creative field.  He said,

“People have borderline religious briefs around how you build a brand. There’s almost a disrespect for the discipline in certain cases. There is deep-rooted muscle memory, so that this [attitude] is perceived as an attack. You can’t start with an insult. Get all the benefits you can out of technology and what’s available, but you also have to tell them the stuff they believe and care about makes the difference.”

Legorburu adds, “If you only look at technology and data as a means to optimize the performance of what you do, then you’re missing a big part of it. Data can be another crayon in the box, an ingredient for creativity as opposed to a way to judge creativity.”

-By Zach Rodgers

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