Everything is Data: The Silent Foundation of Creativity

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This was my first time attending the Cannes Lions festival.  My role is in data, so I gravitated towards the categories with obvious data connections, and was specifically excited to see the work in the Creative Data category. I’d seen recaps and been briefed by industry publications and my peers in years past so thought I had a good idea of what to expect. But what I found was not what I expected – data was everywhere. It spanned across categories, channels, topics, and countries.

I noticed a few themes.  First: the extensive variety in HOW data was used.  It wasn’t about results (although results are very important), it was about using data to inspire, inform, and execute in new and thought-provoking ways. In some cases, data was simply the inspiration for something that became a bigger idea, while in others it was foundational to making it come to life.

Here are my favorites:

  1. Netfix’s Narcos Spanish Lessons. The series Narcos delivered an unexpected result: people weren’t just quoting the series on social media- they were actually learning Spanish from it. More inspirational than foundational, the insight that learning, for free, to “Speak Spanish like El Pátron” was blowing up on social, inspiring a whole campaign platform. With the help of language app, Babbel, Narcos fans could learn the language in a non-traditional and interactive way.
  2. Adidas Japan’s Green Light Run. The Green Light Run Tokyo campaign was created in celebration of the opening of Brand Core Store Harajuku – the brand’s first store focused on city running. Adidas invited runners to complete a full marathon through Tokyo aided by real-time data from traffic signals to dictate pace. Tokyo is home to 15,772 traffic signals, making it virtually impossible for the city to host a marathon. Using traffic data while taking traffic light patterns, distance, timing, and safety into account, 30 runners were able to complete the marathon in full.
  3. Whirlpool’s Care Counts. Both inspirational and foundational, this campaign was launched in an effort to increase attendance rates in schools by providing students with access to clean laundry. Data revealed one in five students struggle with access to clean clothes, ultimately resulting in absenteeism, an issue impacting an estimated five to ten million students each year. After installing washers and dryers in 17 schools, attendance rates jump to over 90%, and overall attitude toward school increased exponentially. Data points inspired the original idea, but was also pertinent to execution. (Full disclosure: this is DigitasLBi work.)

Second, there are some topics that seem to naturally lend themselves to using data, either because data is more available, or because it has a strong human connection.  Safety is a big one.  Safety while driving, safety while walking, safety while swimming, etc. Pocket Patrol (which uses advanced smartphone technology and augmented reality to help visually identify rip currents) was my favorite because of the real-time aspect of the data and the unique use case.  Fitness is the other topic, but it’s not just about monitoring, it’s about pushing.  Nike Unlimited Stadium (which tracks and visualizes your running data so you can compete with yourself) is an awesome example of that.

Third, AI and Machine learning are going to change the world (but you knew that).  Many of the entries had an aspect of AI in it.  Check out the trailer for Morgan as an example.

All in all, there are five things you must do if you want to build a successful creative data campaign:

  1. Choose the right data.  Data for the sake of data feels inauthentic and can lead you to false insights, but the right type of data for the right idea feels seamless.
  2. Make up your own rules.  Just because data was meant to do one thing doesn’t mean you can’t use it for something else.
  3. Make it invisible.  The goal isn’t for someone to see it and go “look at all that data”, the goal is for them to feel connected and inspired by it.
  4. Take a risk.  Don’t shy away from something that hasn’t been done before. Try new ways to integrate data and technology to accomplish your vision.
  5. Don’t just measure success, define it. It’s not just about measurement — success also needs to be defined by the behavior we are trying to change.

Next year, we will see a greater volume of entries, more depth of execution, more use of AI.  I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s in store.

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