Big Ideas: Data and Creativity

Publicis New York’s Director of Data Science Tim Rich discusses the interplay of data science and creativity in advertising.

Does data replace creativity?

In a creative agency setting there is a little bit of tension inherent in this, but the question for me is: how can we use data to spur creativity? I don’t think either of these things exist in silos. A lot of times data and data science is put at the back of the funnel, so it becomes a function of analytics. One of the things we really focus on at Publicis is moving data science forward in the funnel, into the creative process. So when we get a brief, and the brief might say something like, “we have this storied car brand and we want to bring it to a younger generation where it’s really going to land, because it’s a phenomenal vehicle,” we go to the data science part of it and we say “okay, how can we use data to help understand what people are thinking about this brand?” Are there certain words that are being used? Are there certain ideas that are being used? And we help surface and inject this creative potential.

Is data creative?

When I approach data, I approach it from a super creative point of view. I’ve definitely done a lot of math in my life, but I’m not necessarily a mathematician, by any means. But I really love people. And the thing that drove me to data is that data represents people, and data is about people. People make data. We go through the turnstile in the subway, we buy stuff with our card. So when we re-inject humanity into data—and this is something that’s really at the core of our practice at Publicis—it starts to illustrate these consumer journeys, and it starts to flesh out these mindsets. It really starts to fill in the gaps between what people say they do, which is classical surveys, and what we watch people doing, like people-watching, the best sport in town. Right in the middle is data, the marriage between the two.

How is our relationship with data changing?

As data is becoming more commonplace, what we’re seeing is that it’s becoming more humanized. We’re starting to see it more. My sleep app helps me understand my sleep cycle better, my iWatch helps me understand my skin temperature and heart rate better. Data as a common vernacular is weaving in, and because of that, when we’re approaching what seems to be a problem at loggerheads—that is, data vs. creativity—those walls are being broken down. And that’s something that really excites me.

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