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In-depth: Is it the unison of ‘data’ and ‘creativity’ that keeps the advertising industry going?

To keep the boat of advertising afloat in the current times with data taking over, industry players look at striking the right balance between ‘art’ and ‘science’ to remain relevant yet ignite the creative spark

In modern times when the Googles, Amazons, Metas and Microsofts of the world continue to build upon humongous data sets from their global consumer footprint front in their walled gardens, the advertising industry is often questioned as to whether advertising is still an ‘art’ or is it becoming more of a ‘science’.

Speaking to, industry leaders from the advertising fraternity emphasised that both data and creativity go hand-in-hand for the creation of campaigns and saying that one is more important than the other would essentially resonate with comparing the functioning of the left and right side of the human brain.

Anita Nayyar

According to Anita Nayyar, COO - Media, Branding and Communication, Patanjali Ayurved, said that when one carries out their research for formulating any strategy for a brand, be it marketing, creative or even media strategy for any campaign, data plays a very crucial role as all the insights come from the data which makes the entire process very robust and helps in corroboration.

“Data is responsible for providing insights and once the insights are at one’s disposal, they can be used by the creative experts to make memorable ad campaigns. Earlier too, the campaigns were backed with data and research, but today data is at the core of everything and with advancement in technology it has become far more robust,” Nayyar said.

Ajay Kakar

In the views of Ajay Kakar, brand and marketing strategist, data has always been an integral part of client briefs. “Earlier, this data came from desk research or primary research but today, it is the big data and analytics that help clients and partners get a much sharper understanding of the customer which further helps in hyper-personalising the message,” he said.

He then went on to add that the challenge and opportunity was, is, and will always remain, to convert a brief into an insightful, engaging and impactful creative ad campaign, which essentially means ‘taking a creative leap’.

“This creative leap comes when the agency takes the lead through client agency discussions with the creative minds at both ends,” said Kakar.

Moreover, he also emphasised that at an individual level, he does believe that data is a start or ‘an enabler’, but it can never be a ‘constraint’, for impactful creativity.

Soumitra Karnik

On a similar note, Soumitra Karnik, an independent creative consultant, also stated that marketing campaigns have almost always been created on the basis of customer insights and it’s not as if it is only happening now.

“Data is only the first step, a crucial input really, but by itself, it is merely a guiding compass. Creativity is the process and the output. Thus, to believe that development of a marketing campaign ends only at gathered data is like taking a journey through the most travelled road. Without creativity, one won’t be able to find newer paths to the known destinations, shortcuts, undiscovered nooks and corners that are not on the map, ” he said.

Karnik said that data and insights are great ammunition to make a strategy and it sure does help in aligning the clients with the plan, but it is the creative strategy which has to take a leap from there.

Rajiv Dubey

On a slightly different note, Rajiv Dubey, Head of Media, Dabur, also stated that one cannot solely rely on performance marketing, as brand building is equally important and in the long-term, it is the pull of the brand which actually makes the brand. “These two need to go hand-in-hand,” he added.

“Data-driven or performance marketing can work in the short run, but in the longer run, it is demand creation which is crucial for any brand and that is where brand building and advertising come into the picture,” he said.

Karan Kumar

According to Karan Kumar, Group Chief Marketing and Growth Officer, ART Fertility Clinics, ‘insight’ is the most important input into the development of a successful creative idea. The insight could come either from data-crunching or from qualitative sources while one is keenly observing the target customers’ behaviour and mannerisms, and also by reading between the lines on what the target group means but is not stating in mere words, he said.

Kumar said, “The creative idea behind any ad campaign essentially needs to address the ‘need’ that the audience has and solve the problem that the audience is facing. That is what makes the communication succeed.”

Manish Bhatt

Sharing his opinion on how data impacts creativity, Manish Bhatt, Founder Director, Scarecrow M&C Saatchi, said that data has become equivalent to ‘fuel’ or ‘oxygen’ for the creative industry because most businesses today use this data as a basis or support for their overall strategy.

“While data may have proven to be a virtue for some companies, some businesses have suffered immense damages as well because of quantitative analysis of the available data,” he said.

Bhatt also went on to add that data is a more-algorithmic, democratic, and easy way out of understanding how the audience preferences are, but still data is ‘dry’ information without an idea as it only gives out half-proof solutions with no account of human emotions.

“Data-driven approach is a ‘novelty’ without any insight or common truth, it’ll not sustain and thus die down in the longer run,” he said.

Dhruv Sachdeva

According to Dhruv Sachdeva, Founder, Humour Me, “What data does is it gives one a picture of yesterday and today, not of tomorrow. It allows us to analyse the information from the past, or today to gain unique insights which can then allow us to champion great ideas that are bound to be effective.”

“Great data helps us to empower ourselves with the power of unique patterns and insights, that then enables us to crack an idea that is going to have maximum efficacy. Also, it is not data versus creativity. When one has enough data to support their decision making, it removes subjectivity.” he added.

Sachdeva also went on to emphasise that “Data collection and gathering is not enough! One needs to know why one is gathering data to begin with, and what one aims to do with it. Gathering a plethora of data aimlessly without having a clear hypothesis one wants to test, or clear pattern recognition to in turn find unique solutions is a complete waste of time. It also has to be real time! Crunching data from months ago, at least in the context of ad tech, is absolutely not beneficial.”

Upon being asked as to what would describe advertising the best- ‘art’ or ‘science’, Patanjali’s Nayyar replied that advertising is a combination of both ‘science’ and ‘art’, wherein the former represents a data-driven approach where one gets the insights from, and the latter denotes how one goes about creatively crafting that particular campaign with the use of these insights.

“There’s always a risk in the inference from the data depending on what is being sought. It might not resonate with what the brand wants to stand for in the marketplace,” she said.

Similarly, ART Fertility’s Kumar also emphasised that advertising has always been a combination of left brain and right brain, art and science, data and creativity. “In fact, some of the best ad campaigns internationally managed to strike an optimal balance between the two in an effective manner,” he said.

“Traditionally, while ‘emotions’ helped in packaging and the delivery of the key message, Reasons to Believe (RTB) were the pillars that made the message credible as to why one brand was best placed to deliver on the promises made versus others in the category.  Thus, successful ads have always been a combination of RTBs packaged with emotions,” Kumar added.

Humour Me’s Sachdeva also stated that one cannot play blind when it comes to campaigns today. You can’t just rely on gut and instinct. Data helps support and lend credibility to an idea before one doubles down on it. We have the ability to A/B consumer insights at scale today, yet so few marketers do this! This game is still being driven by complete subjectivity, even in a 2022 landscape, which is truly surprising.”

“You need to be living under a rock if you don’t recognise what is truly going on! Every digital platform’s algorithm supports content at scale and volume over content just pushed through media spends and ad dollars. It’s art and science as a combination. You need to be making 800 creative pieces of content delivered to different behavioural cohorts, as opposed to 3 TVCs in a year that aim to program for everyone! Use the same money to produce much more content that serves bespoke audience interests.” he said.

In the views of Kakar, while data might have constraints, it does help in gaining insights on the basis of past behaviour and history. “But with a fast-evolving customer and faster changing environment, the past may not always be an accurate prediction of future behaviour,” he said.

Summing it all up, Kakar stated that great and impactful communications are an outcome of the left and right brain thinking. “While data may impact the mind a bit more, emotions impact the heart and it is rare that mere data can bring a tear to a consumer’s heart or a smile to his face,” he stated.

Throwing light on the essence behind ‘big ideas’, Karnik said that it is the big idea that takes us forward and creates engagements and economies that didn’t exist earlier. With regards to the Indian advertising landscape, he also emphasised that big ideas in campaigns take brands from just occupying eye space to mind space and all the way to the heart space.

“I wouldn’t say that data-driven approach subsides the big idea because data gives us a sharper and deeper understanding of the consumer, and reaching him/her becomes easier but then it stops there, until someone finds hidden nuances in the available data and interprets it in a manner which produces fresh insights. Data makes one aware of a pattern, a big idea wants to understand that pattern and then break out of it to offer something new and refreshing,” he said.

Karnik also went on to state that advertising is a beautiful blend of both art and science and that ‘logic’ and ‘magic’ is the most used term for it. “Sometimes there is more art and less science, and sometimes there is more science and less art. The balance will keep shifting,” he said.

In the views of Dabur’s Dubey, unlike olden times, when there was only one medium and everybody watched the same thing, it is the fragmentation of the mediums like TV into CTV, HD, Cable TV, FTA, Cord-cutters etc. which has pushed marketers to create different kind of content for various set of viewers.

“What is essential is that we create a campaign that ties across different mediums and creates an impact,” Dubey added.

Furthermore, Sachdeva also went on to predict that the number one mega trend for 2030 is that “the middle class is going to see the largest growth in the MNI segment. As the middle class become more discerning and affluent, they will naturally become more picky in terms of the choices of brands and products that they would want to engage in. Just pushing advertising won’t work. because they will find it to be intrusive and a nuisance. They will want to discover and engage with these brands for themselves. Which is why creating content that pulls audiences in as opposed to being pushed at people, will become critical!” Sachdeva said.

He also went on to add that “In the current times, a simple post can change the fate of any brand, thus anything can be a big idea- from a meme, to a music video, or a reel and so on and so forth.

“A big idea doesn’t mean that one should essentially have a big budget , a big TVC or big production values. But if one has a great idea and a potent execution, it can create disproportionate amounts of attention for a brand.” he said.

Additionally, Kumar also stated that in the modern-day scenario, the quality of ads is not degrading, but the ads are becoming more direct and to the point, cutting down the emotional content which is an essential hook in storytelling, and a key tool to achieving creative cut-through.

“In most cases, there is a larger loss in creative storytelling in the trade-off for the basic idea being communicated more swiftly and directly. This change is being triggered by both the brand wanting to save more money by reducing its Average Commercial Duration (ACD) which dictates media spends, as well as, the reducing attention span with every progressive generation,” Kumar said.

In the views of Patanjali’s Nayyar, “What has really changed in advertising is that in the past, the crafting of a campaign was ‘much better’ because there was a lot of creative freedom that was given to the ‘creative guys’, which is not the case today as brands are becoming more cautious as they base everything on data sets.”

“I do feel that data is important, but because we are giving way too much importance to data, currently advertising no longer seems to be a mix of both ‘art’ and ‘science’ as ‘science’ is taking over ‘art’, which is why creativity suffers. If we take into consideration the ‘gut-feel’ of a creative person and then strike a balance between art, science and gut, the industry would see actually good and memorable campaigns,” she said.

While commenting as to how the ‘big idea’ has changed in the modern scenario, Karnik stated that today the landscape has changed as one doesn’t need a sustained big idea, but a hit idea every other day.

“Many in these times mistake merely being present on the platform and using various tools and formats as being the ‘idea’. This has reduced most of the work to being dull, boring, and prescriptive while being sharply targeted,” he said.

Furthermore, Karnik also went on to add that agencies have to compete with UGC that is far more engaging, entertaining and unapologetic.

“Backed by dozens of AI assisted writing apps that are promising to write compelling ‘sales’ copy, and even outlines and scripts of videos; original and fresh thinking is made to feel like too much work that will take too long. The focus is on getting the job done in the fastest time possible,” he added.

Furthermore, Karnik also elaborated that the digital medium has opened up the canvas a lot more and that there is abundance of creativity all around, but sadly, it rarely has a pack shot at the end. “There are people who are constantly pushing the envelope and creating something new by experimenting with the medium. They are doing something right,” he said.

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