The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Creativity Creates The Impossible …

I saw an article [the one above] recently that reinforced the importance of creativity and culture in building brands and business.

Of course I’m preaching to the choir, but I get very frustrated hearing companies – and even people who claim they’re in the business of creativity – act as if they’re ‘lesser’ tools to data.

Now don’t get me wrong, data is important and can be used very creatively – and I’m very fortunate to have worked with a few people who have proved this day after day after day – but so few companies talk about it in these terms, instead celebrating data in terms of its rational certainty which, as we all know, is total bollocks because it’s dependent on where the data has come from, who is interpreting it and whether they see it as giving solutions or understanding.

In the context of the article above, data would have probably have said Americans won’t eat sushi.

There would be a huge amount of evidence to reinforce that and many companies would have simply walked away.

But where you would think big business has the brains and tools to find ways around obstacles, the reality is often they’re paralysed by structure, politics and blinkers – not to mention, have the scale to mean they can just move on to the next thing without really having to think about it.

Until someone else does it.

And often, that someone else is someone smaller.

Someone without the structure, politics, blinkers or scale to just accept impossible.

Someone who embraces culture and creativity because they need to survive.

Someone open enough to create rules rather than just follow tradition.

Data didn’t create NIKE.

Data didn’t create Tesla.

Data didn’t create the California roll.

Somewhere along the line they played an important part, but that’s all they did – a part.

Yes, it’s important.

Yes, it can make a huge difference.

But thinking it can do it all on its own is the biggest lie being sold in the industry right now.

Culture and creativity are incredibly powerful forces.

They’re not just checkboxes of a process.

They’re not just a process.

They are living, breathing entities with the ability to change expected outcomes and create new ways of looking at the world.

In these speed-obsessed times, too many view understanding culture and exploring creativity as commercially ineffective because they require nurturing, love and space … however when done right, they can combine in such a way to redefine the rules everyone plays by and make the big players – who think they have all the answers – desperately trying to play catch up.

More than that, it can create the foundation where your business attracts audiences rather than has to continually chase them because you’re building a brand of distinction rather than another commoditised company of alleged disruption.

Again, none of this is meant to be anti-data just a reminder culture and creativity are – at the very least – equal forces of commercial power and should be respected that way, because a year on from the talk Martin and I gave at Cannes for WARC, it is obvious there is still an inherent need to remember chaos creates what order can’t.



It’s Not Big. It’s Not Clever. But It’s A Bit Funny …

So Cannes sent out a ‘wrap up’ of things learnt from this years festival.

There was a lot of talk about authenticity and audience … great, intelligent speakers with genuinely fascinating perspectives on how we get closer to audiences without them just feeling like ‘the data told us what to say and how to do it’.

Again, this is not an anti-data thing. Far from it.

But for creativity to infiltrate, invigorate and ultimately move culture and business forwards, it needs to be resonant to the audience [and the brand] rather than be some semi-relevant message that has been designed to actively disregard the very things that makes us human.

For that I mean the messiness, hypocrisy, fears, complexity, loves, passions, habits and nuance of how we think, what we think and how we live … the stuff that gives us individuality … the stuff that is very different to just focusing on transactional data points that have ultimately been designed to give specific answers to specific questions that forgets the importance of context.

Great data folks understand the need for this.

Great planning folks understand the need for data.

Sadly, we still treat them as an either/or, which highlights our industry seems to be more focused on the ego of power and control rather than what can liberate the most interesting creativity. Ironically, while I think my attitude shows me in the most professional light that I’ve ever been, I recently got called a ‘corporate anarchist’ – which kind of reinforces my point – however all this is immaterial, because imagine the utter disappointment of the people who spoke their brilliance at Cannes and discovered in the wrap up, almost half the pages dedicated to this subject come from a ranty, sweary Nottingham lad.

Their loss.

The industries shame.

My unbelievable, unashamedly wonderful gain.



Careful. Your Data Is Showing …

The big conversation in marketing right now is around data.

So it should be, it’s insanely valuable and important.

But the irony is, while it can absolutely help us have deeper understanding about our audiences behaviour and habits – information that can lead to more powerful and valuable creativity – it’s alarming how many companies who claim to be experts in this field express themselves in ways that are the opposite of it.

Here are 2 ads I saw in Cannes …

Really?

You think that is going to convince people the data and technology you have is going to lead to better work?

You think that represents the language of your audience?

Sure, I know it’s Cannes and so there is a certain sort of person who is attending there at that moment – but they’re still bloody human.

Quite frankly, this is more an ad for celebrating ‘the old way’ rather than the new.

As Martin and I said in our presentation – if companies think creativity can be reduced to an engineering problem, then they don’t understand how society actually works.

Sure … you want consistency if you’re doing surgery.

Or making rockets.

Or producing food.

But society as a whole, is a mish-mash of complications and hypocrisy.

A group where their passions extend to far more than what they transact with … but how it integrates with their life.

Their fashion. Their music. Their games. Their language and imagery. Their context.

If you remove this from the process, you are simply creating the answer you want, not the answer that actually stands a chance of moving cultural behavior and attitudes for the long term, not just the short.

Or said another way, making brands successful in ways culture wants to stick with.

As I said, data has a huge and valuable role to play in all this.

I’m fortunate to have an extremely good data partner at R/GA … someone who not only knows what she’s doing, but appreciates it means nothing if it doesn’t help create better work.

And that’s the thing … great data doesn’t want the spotlight.

I see too much work where the brief seems to have been ‘show this data point’.

Or worse, too many briefs where it is the data point.

Great data – like great PR – is, in a lot of ways, invisible.

It liberates creativity rather than dictates it.

Revealing opportunities to think laterally not literally.

Helps you make work that reaches audience in more powerful ways.

Whether that’s where you play or how you play.

Put simply, data is an incredibly important part of modern marketing but – and this is where many people fall down – it can’t do it all.

It needs help to help make great work.

It can guide … it can reveal … it can lead … it can do so much, but it can’t do everything.

For data to truly show its full potential, it needs the nuances of culture added to it. Not purely for scalability, but for resonance.

As I’ve said many times, we need to stop looking to be relevant and start wanting to be resonant.

Making work that feels it was born from inside the culture, not from an observer.

Or said another way, work that doesn’t patronise, condescend or bore people.

Are you listening IBM and Neilsen?

Data with culture opens up more possibilities for creativity.

Allowing ideas to grow and go in places we might never have imagined.

Ideas that feel so right to the audience rather than explain why they should feel that way.



Netflix DataFucks …

Let me be clear, I really like Netflix.

I like them for the programming they make.

I like them for how they reinvented themselves when they saw their business die with DVD’s.

I like them for putting craft back into content and arguably making this the golden age of telly.

[Yes, I said TV, because some research said Netflix was mostly watched on the old box]

But I digress …

There’s one thing I don’t like about them and that’s how they talk about data creating the show ‘House Of Cards’.

I’m not doubting data played an important role in their thinking, but the way some people talk about it, data was the whole reason the show was made, ignoring the fact that a team of talented and creative actors, directors, camera men and film crew were needed to actually bring it to the screen. But even more than that, House Of Cards had already been made by the BBC years earlier, so it was an ‘update’ rather than a brand new creation.

However the main reason I doubt that narrative is that if data had proved to be so successful, why haven’t they done it again … and if they have, why is there no show that has had the same level of impact?

Alright, there have been a few that have definitely captured cultures attention, but they seem to be more because they’re talking about an event that captured the World’s attention [Fyre Festival] or simply offered a show featuring a Hollywood star at a time where people were desperately looking for content [Sandra Bullock’s, Bird Cage, which came out at Christmas]

OK, I’m being pretty unfair as Netflix is pretty awesome, but I suppose I just get wary of people claiming data made their creativity happen when the reality is [1] it didn’t and [2] if it did, then there is a hell of a lot of content on that network that is a great case for not relying on it entirely.

Data has a very important role to play in almost every industry, but when you claim – and trust – it can do it all without needing the understanding, imagination and craft of talented and creative humans, then you’re about as blind as the people who fail to see Bird Cage’s ending was rushed, contrived and massively underwhelming.



What If We’re Wrong …

One of the things that bothers me is how data [in marketing] has become law.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of data – or should I say, real data that has been amassed properly, read properly and used properly – but a lot of the stuff today is nothing more than small bits of information packaged to be big bits of information.

Worse, a lot of it has no texture whatsoever … designed to reinforce a position someone wants rather than to inform and enlighten on things you don’t know but would like to find out.

But even then, data is not infallible.

There, I said it.

Data is as good as the people who created it.

And yet day after day, I read about companies who treat their data like its god … even though you can see the flaws in their approach from 10,000 miles away.

From what they’re trying to discover.

To how they’re trying to discover it.

To what they want to do with it once they’ve got it.

No surprise then that so many then go on to report ‘lower than expected’ revenues.

I’m lucky that I work at a place with a progressive view of data, especially with the way we use our Ventures program.

But in addition to that, I work with an amazing data specialist.

She’s cheeky sod who is a bloody legend.

Not just for what she does but for what she pushes.

A believer in the role of culture not just habits.

But another part of her skill is that she knows what data does and what data doesn’t.

Data guides.

It heavily suggests.

It shines a light on important and essential behaviours.

It forces discussions about how best to approach situations.

But it rarely is undisputed, unquestionable, always certain, fact.

To be honest, I believe most people in the marketing field of data knows this but – as is the case with most things in marketing – we go around talking in certainties in an attempt to raise our professional standing when all it does is the opposite.

Hey, I get it, we see it being done in so many fields – from government to finance – but that still doesn’t mean it makes people believe what we’re saying, it just makes us complicit.

The reality is society is far smarter than we give them credit for. The only reason they let so much of this rubbish pass is because they literally don’t care what we say. They have seen so many facts that turned into fiction that they view what we do as literally a game … which is why, while data and strategy still play an important part in making creativity that helps brands move forward, the most powerful differentiator between ideas that culture sees and culture give a shit about is how interesting, intriguing and exciting it is.