In 2021, Creative Is King

The triumphant return of creative demonstrates something all sharp buyers dismiss but which remains a persistent myth: that data and creative are at odds.

кем India Fizer , AdForum


London, United Kingdom
See Profile

Data and Creativity: Are they incongruous or intersectional? We spoke with Ciesco's Colin Wheeler to explore.

In the past three years, across the buyer landscape, companies looking to acquire have focused on agencies with expertise in digital, tech, and data. Many of these buyers were playing catch-up, and all were looking to develop a better understanding of their consumers—specifically their wants, needs and buying habits. Using data and analytics, a brand can be more targeted in its marketing work, see what is having the desired effect and what isn’t, and change its strategy accordingly. Data gives you the power to stay abreast of changing consumer behavior in a marketplace in flux. 

It is no surprise then, that buyers in recent years have been willing to pay top dollar to acquire these capabilities. Certainly, agencies with expertise in and a focus on data and analytics have been valued highly and have cost a great deal more than purely creative agencies. But this trend is changing. Buyers are now focusing on creative once again. Though it would not be true to say that they ever stopped paying attention to creative, there is no doubt that for a time it was considered secondary to digital and data, and that buyers are looking at it in a different light today.

Data remains as valuable as ever, and not just to brands. But it has slowly become apparent that it has also had a levelling effect. There are now a great many products and services with no real competitive advantage over one another, all of them competing in a global marketplace, because the brands selling those products have embraced a data-first marketing strategy. The result is that consumers have more choice than they ever have had in human history, but few brands are truly distinct or unique. This raises a key question: How do those consumers make a purchasing decision? How do they choose one product over another especially when there is no real price differentiation and online purchasing today makes every choice accessible?

And this is where great creative comes in. Creative, underpinned by an intelligent overall strategy which uses data, signals originality on the part of the brand but also captures consumer attention. This is what makes a brand, and its products, stand out in this flattened landscape. Ultimately, that leads to sales. Creative agencies, those who can demonstrate that they have delivered for their clients, creatively speaking—are now back in favor in the M&A world and buyers are on the hunt for those creative agencies that boast proven case studies for their client’s businesses. Far from being considered irrational or “merely” imaginative compared to its rational, data-shaped sibling, creative has re-emerged on the stage as the key differentiator for brands.

The triumphant return of creative also demonstrates something all sharp buyers dismiss but which remains a persistent myth: that data and creative are at odds. Despite a long-running debate that pitches one against the another, there is an increasingly widespread recognition that data can and does encourage and nurture creative thought, rather than stifle it. Simplistic narratives, often making reference to outdated ideas about the different sides of the brain, have long insisted that agencies must be either data-driven or creative-driven. In fact, data can minimize drudgery and simplify complex tasks, making more room for great strategic and creative work. And creative can still be data-informed: you can use data to get an idea of what kind of creative is hitting the mark. We’re moving from an “either/or” take to a “both/and one”. 

Here lies a fantastic opportunity. Kantar has shown that “meaningful difference” among brands has declined for eight years in a row, and creative can be this missing differentiating force, setting brands apart from the majority. Shrewd buyers will not be willing to let this chance pass by.