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The 'Big Idea' in Big Data

A Short History of Creativity and Data in Advertising
Brett Friedman

The debate over the use of data in creative has raged on for years: does immense creativity and intuition make an ad perform or is it constant iteration, hyper-personalization, product data streams that make your numbers each quarter?

To make a judgement call one way or the other, you need to understand a few things:

  • The history of creativity in advertising
  • The history of data in advertising
  • Where we are today

Let's get started.

The History of Creativity in Advertising

Before 1960, advertising was formulaic. You found out why your customers bought things in your industry, that is, what their problems were, then you marketed your product as a solution to those problems. It was a product focused pitch using your 'unique selling proposition' (USP), focused around the benefits your product could provide for buyers.

A classic Rosser Reeves ad, the pioneer of USP Advertising

After 1960, everything changed. As part of the rapid cultural evolution, there was the Creative Revolution in advertising. Consumers grew bored of traditional ads and needed something more stimulating to catch their attention. This is when the 'Big Idea' took over.

Advertisers began breaking the rules, focusing on image rather than benefit, warm connection with the audience rather than cold research and a hard sell. Ads centered around the 'Big Idea', a single concept so clever that anyone who saw your ad would purchase from you.

A classic Bill Bernbach ad, the pioneer of Creative Advertising

Since the 60's creativity has essentially dominated advertising. Creative teams became a major part of agency structure. Advertisers hired artists, authors, and film directors to organize their ads. Award ceremonies like the Clios and Cannes' International Advertising Festival cropped up to prize the most clever ads each year. And for good reason

Since then, not much has changed... except for the research.

The History of Data in Advertising

Before there was data, there was research. Qualitative studies about what makes people purchase a product. With the invention of computers, research turned quantitative. With the widespread usage of the internet, quantitative research turned into big data.

World's first banner ad, AT&T 1994

By 1995 WebConnect began collecting demographic data to help advertisers target their ideal customers where they were most likely to go. 1996, DoubleClick invented online attribution and the CPM model. Within a decade, teh rise of social media brought hyper-personalization.

Facebook and Google allow advertisers to use location, interests, web searches, apps and technology used, industry, occupation, networks, calendars, browsing history and just about everything ever uttered online. All this led to an audience-targeting' revolution. Companies could now learn what people wanted more than ever, re-focusing emphasis on ads like Reeve's that emphasize product benefits, this time to the unique individual viewing the ad.

Musicbed shows off their hyper-targeting data with individualized ads

So where does that leave us today?

Creativity and Data in Advertising Today

To answer that question, we asked 5 marketers whether they subscribed to the 'Big Idea' or if they leveraged data to make their ads effective.

The answer was a resounding: 'both.'

Andrus Purde, CEO of Outfunnel, and former head of marketing at Pipedrive,

"Success is definitely more attainable when you combine both 'Big Idea' and data."

Mike Vossen, Digital Ads Expert at Vendasta agrees, noting,

"The data we collect gives us a better understanding for where and how to market ourselves, but the big idea will be the beating heart of any ad campaign."

Today, the creative department remains a staple of every ad agency and in-house marketing team. In the past 30 years, the data department has become equally important. And today, collaboration across the two has launched a new realm: creative data.

Creative data is the result of scientific method applied to advertising in conjunction with better performance attribution than ever before. By tagging creative components in your ads, systematically changing components, and testing all possible component combinations, advertisers can quickly gauge which colors, copy, products, prices, and more make their ads most effective. Moreover, they no longer have to rely on one single 'big idea'. Creatives can generate dozens of creative concepts and test them all for relatively little money. Using performance indicators like clicks or purchases, advertisers can then optimize their campaigns to find ad-audience fit.

Though the numbers are fake, this is a real example of creative data

While some may argue that the creative concept is what drives performance, today, most advertisers will agree that the two perform best in harmony.

For more information, see perspectives from the 5 marketers we asked below.

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