articleTech & Innovation
Stop Using Data 'Like A Bad Science Fiction Movie'

Data and creativity have long been strange bedfellows in the advertising world. While in the past there may have been begrudging acceptance that each department needed the other, data and creativity today are inexorably linked. They’re not so much roads that run in the same direction and intersect from time to time as much as they’re increasingly merging into one road altogether. Marc Mathieu—former Senior Vice President of Marketing at Unilever—spoke at the just-completed Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity about how today’s brands can use data to both make meaningful creative and better impact the lives of consumers. 

Mathieu believes that in today’s data-rich climate, data can, and should, be used effectively to power both a creative idea as well as the experience for the consumer. Mathieu cited past examples of data being used for one of these purposes but not the other: a Dannon ad that claimed that their yogurt was recognizable after tasting 1,000 other yogurts was an example of a data point helping to prove a creative idea; and a French rail ad in which a couple who lived by the train tracks was able to use the punctuality of the passing trains to know when a pot of boiling eggs was ready showed data being used in the creative.  

But now, Mathieu said, ads can do both. He cited last year’s Cannes-winning “Magic of Flying” outdoor ads from British Airways. The billboard showed a child pointing up at actual planes flying overhead, with the ad displaying where the flight originated and where it was flying to. Data was being used for both means; as a way to inform the creative idea, and in the messaging to the consumer. It was a memorable piece of work and one that Mathieu seemed to believe could be a blueprint for future brands who are looking to use data in an attention-grabbing, entertaining way. 

Whenever marketers talk about data, there’s inevitably mentions of targeting. The idea follows that the more data a brand has about its consumers, the better is can target its consumers. But Mathieu thinks this is a draconian way to use data. He believes that a few years from now, the industry will look back and wonder “what were we thinking?” when it comes to bombarding people with mobile interruptions. He likened the current use of data for targeting to “bad science fiction movies”.


If we’re not to use data for uber-specific targeting, what should it be for? Mathieu believes that data needs to be used for utility, messaging, and entertainment on the consumer’s terms. He noted that the reason Google is one of the biggest brands in the world today is because of the amount of times it seamlessly integrates into our lives, using data to help us do things more efficiently. Mathieu believes that is the future of data and technology. Whereas many people think more technology and data means we’ll constantly be looking at screens, Mathieu believes that smart use of data and technology will actually “free us up”, taking care of mundane tasks and making life more efficient so that we have more time to use our minds for creative and fulfilling purposes. 

Mathieu invoked Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her, which takes place in a future where mobile devices come with a smart computer that’s able to handle the mundane tasks in people’s lives. Fears of The Singularity aside, the film touches on a future in which humans are able to depend on technology for taking care of a lot of the mundane tasks in everyday life. If brands are to use technology to make a true connection with people, it won’t be through knowing that a person likes to eat burritos on Tuesday evenings after going to the gym. It will be by finding a way to be a synonymous part of everyday human life by serving the needs of consumers. 

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