Spring '13 AGency

May 5-8, 2013 | Austin, Texas

How to unite data and creativity

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Many believe the digital marketing landscape is splitting. But in reality, data and creativity can work together for amazing results. Here's how.

If you're seeking insights into the future, look no further than the founder and CEO of Upstream Group, Doug Weaver. Need proof? In 2007, iMedia called upon the advertising veteran to deliver the Agency Summit keynote, hoping he could develop a clear picture of the industry's future. What seems like an impossible task, Weaver accomplished with a single metaphor: a separated Oreo cookie.

Let's fast-forward to the 2013 iMedia Agency Summit in Austin, Texas. During his keynote address, Weaver briefly revisited "The Oreo Doctrine," which is quite easy to explain. Once divided into halves, each side of the cookie symbolizes two distinct aspects of digital marketing. One side represents "transaction," and the other side represents "marketecture."

According to Weaver, "transaction is about message distribution." It encompasses all of the buying and selling of standard advertising units. On the other hand, marketecture is "all about message enhancement." It is the business of creating non-standard solutions for clients. But what about the cream that sticks to just one side of the cookie when pulled apart? According to Weaver, it's up to individual companies to choose their side -- transactional or marketectural -- because you can't chose both.

Does this metaphor sound familiar? It should. What Weaver described as "transaction" and "marketecture" have morphed into "programmatic" and "native." Weaver explained that our industry has two brains: The left side of the brain is all about audience. The right side of the brain is the business of experience. Today, these two sides manifest across the industry as programmatic and native. But these two buzzwords don't necessarily capture the essence of the current marketing landscape. As Weaver said, "Programmatic and native are far too limiting for what is really going on. They are lazy intellectual devices."

Because we all "love a good fight," we are quick to focus on the possibilities for division rather than the opportunities for collaboration. Referencing the theme of the iMedia Agency Summit, Weaver explained, "It' not Mad Men versus Math Men. It's Mad Men plus Math Men."

We should recognize the division between data and creativity not to drive a wedge deeper, but to address the shortcomings of the divide and find ways to build a bridge over it. According to Weaver, the purpose of the summit is to "close the chasm" between data and creativity because a "house divided does not stand."    

To modernize his five-year-old cookie metaphor, Weaver turned to the Dao symbol. On one side you have data serving creative. On the other side, you have creative serving data. To clarify this notion, Weaver brought to the stage two individuals who represent the two sides of the Dao: Tim Suther, Acxiom's chief marketing and strategy officer, and Alastair Green, Team One's executive creative director.

To finish the second half of his keynote, Weaver posed a series of questions to Suther and Green in front of a packed house of summit attendees. Here are just a few of those questions:

Weaver: What are some of the cringe-inducing things people say that contribute to the divide between data and creativity?

Suther: I cringe when I hear how data is killing creativity. Of course stories need data to be efficiently timed and placed. But people forget about the other side: For data to be meaningful, it needs a story. Together, data and creative can make advertising more powerful. 

Weaver: We are still a house divided. Why are we not doing better work? What is preventing data and creative from coming together?

Suther: Part of it has to do with the extreme positions that people have posited about data and creative. When they are working together, they can deliver a lot more value. From the data side, when it gets into the equation, it does an awesome job of telling you what was or what is. And the more you take data and focus on what is likely to be, you are in the realm where creative and data work best together...The more we look forward, the better opportunity there is for data and creativity to work together.

Weaver: Are we too focused on brain-dead metrics that are the easy to explain to clients?

Green: Definitely. From my point of view, I hate the click-through rate. It's the easiest thing to measure. That's why we are measuring it...Being 100-percent obsessed with the click-through rate is damaging creative...I prefer brand engagement studies.

To conclude his keynote, Weaver asked Green and Suther to provide present examples of creativity and data working together. For Green, the fusion is represented by Unit 9's Slavery Footprint, which tracks how individual consumption habits are maintaining slavery in Africa. It is through data that we are able to uncover the truth of our online consumption habits.

In closing, Weaver explained that the two most powerful words we should ask ourselves are, "So what?" As he explains, "It forces us to pursue meaning; from meaning comes point of view, and from point of view comes leadership."

Kyle Montero is associate editor of iMedia Connection.

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