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Data-geddon should herald a new era of creativity

With all the recent news about data and its role in advertising, you would have to have your head firmly planted in the sand to not recognise that there is a massive shift happening in the digital advertising ecosystem.

Data is the fuel that powers modern marketing. Whether its automation in CRM, the rise of programmatic media, search or social media, technology is increasingly being used to determine whether to show an ad, and what that ad is. But technology is ultimately only an enabler, a facilitator.

Oleg Vishnepolsky, our chief technology officer at 247 Real Media at the time once said something that I have never forgotten: “Technology enables us to make a million mistakes a second."

In other words, the quality of the many decisions that machines and algorithms make depends entirely on the availability and quality of the data on which they are making these decisions: are you male or female? In market for a car? Live in central Singapore? Walking past a Starbucks? Already my customer?

So when there is a shift in the data ecosystem, the implications are wide. And pressure on data is coming in various forms. For example, Facebook made the commercial decision following the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal to block advertiser using any third party audience data on their platform. But regulators are also getting involved – the GDPR that comes into effect in 2018 and will require explicit, prior consent from users.

People taking control and making (hopefully informed) choices about who uses their data and how, is a good thing for everyone including the advertising industry. With more control going to the consumer, this also means there will naturally be more scrutiny by them and others on how data is used.

Inevitably there will be less data flowing around the ecosystem. But it also means that the data that remains (i.e. data generated directly and with consent from the user) will be more accurate and therefore more valuable – and most likely more expensive to create and access.

The big winner is anyone (a publisher or brand) who can leverage their direct relationship with their customers to gather consent based data.  This is something that brands understand: in a recent Wunderman study, 99% of C-suite execs said they felt that data is critical to their success. But a staggering number – 68% – also said they can’t use data to create relevant messages. You can check out the full Future Ready study here.

And all of this has direct implications for creativity.

It has always surprised me that our industry reserves its best ideas for big set piece content. When it comes to targeted ads, we leave our creative brains at the door. This is surprising and frankly problematic because a data-based interaction has the potential to be a much more intimate one.

All the investment in data and technology is wasted if the message and creative being shown to the user (who is hopefully a human being) is not relevant, engaging, interesting, inspiring, and/or useful. We should be using the data not just to target the user, but to develop the creative ideas and executions.

And yet we often end up with product carousels or flat, uninspiring but cheaply made ads that (at worst) annoy or (at best) are ignored.

With data becoming rarer and more accurate and with consumers becoming more informed and demanding about how their data is used, it is time to put creativity first. To draw inspiration and insight from data.

Putting it another way, when you are talking with someone who you know something about, make sure you are telling them something they will care about.

I can’t help but think that if our industry had understood this value exchange better from the start, people would perhaps be less concerned today about how advertisers use data.

We just were not interesting enough, and it is time to change that.

Caspar Schlickum is chief executive officer of APAC at Wunderman

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