I recalled a conversation with a senior ad industry executive from over 2 years ago. During which, we shared perspectives on where the (ad) industry would go.

He asked me in a rapid-fire style –

“What’s more important – creativity or data?”

The ad industry is feeling the pressure to dial up its conversations beyond the good old creative work. As such, they have also started to indulge in exploration of what data means to them and their clients.

The reality is, consumers are changing the way they make decisions in a world that is digitalizing and the ad industry knows it has to change its game, to sell.

The data answer

Back to his rapid-fire question – “Creativity or data”, and I could only choose one.

I replied after a short ponder, “Data.”

He looked pensive and rebutted with a determination to win the conversation, “I choose creativity, because data is not always available”.

I was, by no means, negating the importance of creativity. Creativity is very fundamental and it is a given for the creative industry.

However, in the client board room, numbers talk. Scorecards and measurable accountability are ordered – This is my personal experience and I had my fair shares of such conversations.

Just because data may not always be available, doesn’t mean we don’t have to justify marketing investment. It’s also true that no all data are mined and exploited.

I see media agencies dominating these conversations at client’s meetings, because they are better placed to justify their work.

Creativity refocused

When I first joined the industry fresh out of school, being creative was all about having the skill to illustrate, communicate and capture attention. Clients were willing to part with sizable budget for a beautifully craved almost blank ad with minimal copy, or the artisanal film with memorable soundtrack. That was the way to capture attention.

Today, creativity has to go beyond beautiful words and pictures. It has to be about innovativeness, disruptive thinking, and the ability to turn new and imaginative ideas into reality.

Window for creative agencies

There are now bigger demands on the marketing functions – CEOs expect their CMOs to be more than just marketing and branding strategists.

CMOs also need to possess financial management, analytical and commercial skills. They have to be business strategist and customer champions.

Not all marketing heads are ready to rise up to that calling even though they have the title. There is still a window for creative agencies to serve as extensions of the brands’ marketing functions.

Balancing and Shift

In many ways, data and creativity are complementary.

Creativity needs to help solve real business problems and turning data into real insights also require some degree of creativity to help join dots.

This is where true balancing act of science and art will be put to test.

To be differentiated and be taken seriously at the boardroom, the new breed of creative agencies must better its competition in these new aspects.

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