Creative Armageddon – the race to be average

Creative Armageddon - The race to be average.

I’ve worked in media and marketing for over 23 years. In that time I’ve seen the creative process move from paper, pritt-stick, tipp-ex and fax to 200 data points tracking users online behaviour to predict what they will want to buy before they even know about it themselves. The fact that we have moved to referencing people as users says a lot about how creativity in marketing has moved from a people centric, emotional, heart wrenching activity to a data based scientific algorithm.

People have become data points. Is the inevitable road of creativity in marketing the race to please the mean? Are we doomed to a wonder-less world? Where is the wow and awe? Where will we find discovery on the motorway of the banal? If we continue on the road of data driven marketing are we destined for a future of endless cute animal videos. Programmatic Televison offers the lure of endless entertainment tailored specifically for you but in reality will this just mean that the future of creative entertainment will be driven by an algorithm of the masses and the interesting and niche will be squeezed out to oblivion, driven by the desire for a better ROI on production costs.

Encouragingly, a report published in 2013 ‘The Future of Creativity In Advertising’ by

Michael A. Belch & George E. Belch, concludes that although marketers are increasingly relying on data to make decisions, creativity is not dead and will continue to remain an important factor in marketing communications into the future. Oh, but to dream.

In July 2016 when the best creative advertising minds came together for a breakfast briefing in London to reimagine the future of advertising 5 key themes emerged – Firstly, real-life experiences replace simulated ones; secondly, that consumers are no longer passive and want to drive the storyline; event-driven campaigns work well for product launches; campaigns are more personal than ever; and, lastly, brands must respond to the zeitgeist and be relevant in the here and now. So in conclusion we now hand the storyline to the viewer and we must talk about what the mass market finds interesting now. God help us, although data points to problems on that front too.

We can all remember iconic advertising and marketing from the past, but in the new world order of laser targeting and algorithmic driven marketing will the future iconic be replaced with boring mass appeal messages. Will the mark of great creativity be how many likes, shares and views we get. Interestingly the recent round of Christmas ads all had a You Tube release in advance of the TV launch. Although the consensus amongst creative marketers is that the John Lewis ad, which cost €1.3M to produce and €7M on campaign cost is a creative failure, it has attracted 17,914,605 views on You Tube. While the M&S Christmas advert which has been lauded for it’s creativity and emotional connection has only attracted 6,114,380 views. Can we now measure creativity in numbers, will data unearth the next Da Vinci? Will creative genius come from the mind of Hawking or Dali?

Laura Jordan Bambach, creative partner at Mr President speaks about the difficulty of the creative process in creative agencies “It is harder because it takes more investment, not just financial, from everyone, client and agency to create something amazing in the face of timelines and more reliance on automation.” Creativity takes time and space and if we marketers and content creators are being driven by data, forced to communicate multiple messages on a plethora of platforms within the same time and budgetary constraints then it is going to be impossible to let creativity breath and flourish.

What of the positives, can creatives use data to guide and aid the creative process. Can we be lean creatives? Iterate and test, reiterate and release. With ad blocking and the move towards native advertising is the creative moving back into the limelight. Can humanity be engineered back into the machine? When I hear of the new breed of agency ‘creatives’ who are experts in analytics and optimisation I fear for the future of creativity in marketing.

What about the writers, the journalists, our guardians of democracy and free thought surely the cold hand of data can’t manipulate their words. Or can it? The Insight Centre in UCD is focusing on using Data Analytics to give meaningful information to a variety of industries. Head of Insight, Professor Barry Smyth says, ‘Almost everything we do generates data and a growing torrent of data is created every second of every day, as companies, public services and individuals generate a burgeoning volume of data, both structured and unstructured. Online networks capture a wealth of information about how we live, work and play. Millions of networked sensors are being embedded in everything from mobile phones to cars to smart energy metres to healthcare services’. One area of Insight research that I find personally interesting is The Future of News and Media – the role of data analytics in next generation news production, media consumption and targeted advertising with projects from companies such as RTÉ, The Irish Times, Storyful, Flashpoint, Elsevier. One of the aims of this project is to analyse the news stories that are gaining most traction online and across social media channels. This information can be used by media companies to automate the stories and to feed us the ‘news’ that the algorithm ‘thinks’ we will respond to. So not only is the future of creativity in the hands of the ‘bots’ but also the bastion of democracy is being scaled and our minds informed by the data miners.

Can the data genie be put back in the bottle? It’s unlikely as brands have become accustomed to and rely on reporting, analytics, measurability and specific ROI to make future decisions. Our human challenge is to ensure we don’t sacrifice wonder on the pyre of big data. We must find a way to use data to free our creativity and not allow our muse to be shackled by big data and the race to be average.

Fergal O’Connor

Congregation  2016

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