Natalie Lyall
Digital Transformation
What is the role of creativity in a data-driven world?

The rise of data, new technologies and disrupters means that the advertising agency is almost unrecognisable from what it was as little as five years ago. Three marketers who have witnessed first hand the evolution of their industry sat down at Spikes Asia to take stock of advertising as it exists today — and where it will go next.

“It used to be simple,” says Julie Bramham, CMO of Diageo India. “Make one great TV ad a year, write a great media plan, maximise reach, do a bit of PR around it.” But the landscape now is much more fragmented, and reaching the consumer in the right place, at the right moment, and in the right way, is becoming an increasingly subtle art.

“You know straight away whether your communications are working,” says Bramham. “You’re no longer reliant on a two to three month timeline, you know within minutes whether consumers are responding positively or negatively.”

Brands are becoming more personal

The immediacy of connecting with people at this touch points brings with it new expectations vis-à-vis authenticity and trust.

“The proliferation of channels has driven a shift in transparency,” says Annabel Fribence, CMO at KFC Asia Central. “Before, if there was an attack against your brand, you’d close your doors, issue a statement, and wait for it to die down. Now, with the strength of social media, we’ve got to run towards those fires, be transparent, acknowledge our faults.”

These expectations of authenticity extend to what a brand stands for, with consumers applying a highly sensitive BS detector to brands who talk the talk without doing anything to back it up. This has led to some truly impactful brand activism; but do people look to products like Marmite to save the world?

“The best brands have always been a part of culture and even helped to define culture,” says Lucy McCabe, Senior Partner of Ogilvy Consulting. “Now brands feel this pressure to have some world-saving purpose.”

And while some brands have forged ahead with a purpose that has logical, inherent ties to their products and consumers, others are merely piggybacking off broader conversations and launching inauthentic (and therefore ineffective) campaigns which annoy rather than inspire. “Is it not enough to grow the brand, grow jobs, and reflect the consumer back to themselves?” Asks McCabe. “Shouldn’t purpose to be rooted in the consumer?”

New tech requires new talent

In terms of the new technologies disrupting and fragmenting the marketplace, brands and agencies are now having to rethink and restructure how creative teams work. KFC are building these newly emerging core competencies into their interview and management process. “We’re making sure our teams and who we recruit can deal with change, and are very inquisitive by nature,” says Fribence. “What I find is that marketers who can’t cope with change don’t enjoy the pace we’re moving at.”

“In the past we’d have had a single universal brand manager who we’d expect to do the job from start to end, now we have a structure that enables specialist satellites around a generalist brand manager,” says Bramham, citing the example of digital data teams who mine and funnel insights back to the brand. Over time, she predicts that these specialist functions will move more closely under the brand management umbrella.

“The extent to which the science and the art come together now means marketing is a career that suits lots of people from lots of different backgrounds,” says Bramham, while McCabe adds that agencies should be broadening their search parameters to find the best talent: “Our industry could benefit from more problem solvers and people from a science and engineering background could be a good addition to a team with people from communications and liberal arts degrees.”

Data will empower creativity, not replace it

Forrester Research has suggested that the role of agency creativity is in danger of disappearing in the era of big data, but all three panellists strongly disagree, and see data as an enabler rather than a usurper. “The role of creativity is more important than ever,” says Bramham. “I’m looking for agencies and partners who are heavily investing in the creative team and making sure we’ve got the very best talent working on our brands, because I really believe creativity equals competitive advantage. Data plays a role there… it helps us act better, faster, with more agility… but the two happily coexist.”

Fribence, meanwhile, believes that this new media landscape will actually be a testing ground for what she calls “real” creative talent, where creators with an understanding of these new platforms will be able to prove themselves.

“The definition of creativity is not in video format; the edge is taking place in every other channel,” she says. “How do you tell your story through your app, your ecommerce channel? There are a lot of consumers here in Singapore whose only experience with KFC is through Deliveroo. So how do we connect emotionally, when the only engagement is through a third party app? That’s a level of creativity we’re asking of agencies that hasn’t been demanded before: to tell our story through every touch point, to make sure every notification is dripping in our personality.”

    We'd love to hear from you.