Was The Battle of Creative Vs. Data Finally Settled at Cannes Lions 2018

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is probably the most important event of the year if you are in advertising.

Once you can get past the slightly ostentatious positioning there is a lot you can learn.

This year my biggest takeaway around in the proper debate being had around creative vs data.

… the thing is this debate isn’t new.

It has being reappearing in different mediums and formats since way back.

In fact if you go read the Robert Collier letter book published in 1931, considered back then as the gold standard of learning about direct response you will see similar arguments come up.

What I believe it really comes down to: is list/medium that provides the targeting of the prospect more important than the actual message/‘creative’ being shown?

Why data seems to have the edge…

You just have to look at largest percentage gains last year on the stock market to see which side of the argument the market favours.


… The general idea of data being put on the pedestal is twofold.

Firstly there is the concept of tangibility.

A creative idea is subjective.

You ask one hundred different people what they think about something, and you will get one hundred different answers. However data has a concrete element to it, which means that subjectivity is less prevalent and therefore is described as more accurate.

Secondarily the idea that data is measurable.

Peter Drucker said ‘What get’s measured gets managed’.

Therefore if you have an objective and can measure the data around it i.e advertising response rates from a targeted audience, you can see if you are getting closer or further away from that goal.

For example in advertising you can have the best creatives in the world for a ladies makeup line, however if they are shown to a males audience the response rate will be near zero.However on the contrary average or even subpar creatives shown to the right audience can yield a good response.

The measurable element gives people a way of taking that data and using it to report and adjust to meet further objectives.

Challenger Creative

What creates the attention in the first place is an idea.

… And the most important idea about creatives isn’t even about a ‘good creative’.

No it’s more about trying things that could fail.

You see data will give you probabilities, that often are can be completely wrong. 

One thing Nassim Taleb often talks about is fat tails. That is a situation in which a small number of observations create the largest effect. Which in advertising are those ideas that might have a minimal chance of working.

Those creative ideas if looked at through a data telescope would be dismissed before the algorithms even tested them properly.

But when they are tested in real life they have a positive impact. Much bigger than the original prediction.

So the idea of dismissing a creative is actually one of dismissing how new ideas become big in the first place.

Just like the diffusion of innovations E.M Rogers expressed to the scientific community in 1962.

But alas the answer that slowly came to light in the le midi is finding a way that both can work together. Which usually will require a more personalised approach ( – with real human thinking!) rather than one that entirely dictated by some machine learning algorithms.

What I love about events like that is the density of information and people is incredible showing you angles and perspectives that you hadn’t much considered before. You get to meet a perpetual amount of people from all around the world that can save you months of trying on your own to figure things out.

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