The Marketing Wars – Creativity Vs. Data

Monday 25th, January 2016

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There is a quote attributed to Henry Ford that goes thus, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses”.

There is no real evidence that Henry Ford actually actually uttered these words. Nor were concepts like market research and product management known in his time. So, it is quite likely that he went about developing his famous Ford Model T based on his hunches. Plus, a very good assessment of what the market was ready to accept.

A Basic Divide

Down the decades, there has been a constant battle between two sides of the marketing camp. There is one side that believes that creativity is a bird that should fly free, without constraints. And there is the other side, the side that believes that it’s all about the data.

Nowhere is this debate more savagely fought than in the realm of advertising. About sixty odd years ago, there were two very famous advertising gurus David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach. Both had diametrically very different approaches to creating great advertising. Both were writers who created the most famous advertising campaigns of the era.

Everything That Can Be Researched, Will!

Ogilvy was a firm believer in the research-backed school of advertising. Every word, every headline, every concept was tested both before and after release. In an era when there were no metrics to judge advertising and its effectiveness, he introduced research-based learnings.

A simple example of this would be his insistence that print ads should not be set in reverse. When printed on a newspaper page, a reverse ad (one where the copy is set in white on a black background) would be very difficult to read.

The Power Of The Idea

Bernbach on the other hand did not decry research. But, he was a believer in the power of the big idea. His campaign to introduce the Volkswagen Beetle in the US is an advertising classic, studied by generations of marketing and advertising students.

Bernbach’s ads appealed to the consumer’s heart. They were simple and direct pieces of communication that did not need additional layering. There were no vanity shots, no obscure references, no lifestyle imagery… times were a lot simpler back then!

The Rise Of Data In The Digital World

With the rise of digital marketing, we’re seeing a whole range of marketing automation and analytics tools being deployed. The face-off between ‘Creative Artists’ and ‘Data Scientists’ is very real. The scientists seem to be gaining the upper hand.

For one, marketing itself is changing. For far too long, it has been perceived to be the least data-dependent – and therefore, least accountable – discipline in the modern organisation. The role of the CMO is changing from being merely an enabler of big ideas to someone who can crunch data and produce results.

Data can now open up endless possibilities. For many traditional creative people, there is a vague sense of uneasiness – of not knowing how a campaign idea has fared. With real-time data increasingly available, it is possible to make course corrections and deliver optimum results.

A Change Of Mindset

The debate between left-brain and right-brain, ‘us’ versus ‘them’ has always existed and will continue to do so. It is far more important that creative people learn to trust their data counterparts as a source of insight. Likewise, the number crunchers should give leeway to their creative team members to ideate and to make the big leap.

Both sides need to develop respect for one another’s domains and expertise. An organisation that manages to balance the yin-yang of creativity and data insights has surely discovered the secret sauce for marketing success.


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