Ben Kay on data and advertising

In his latest column for CR, Ben Kay reflects on the often-tense relationship between creativity and data, and how ad agencies might stop the brain drain of talent to tech companies

Data as far as it relates to advertising is a massive, sprawling subject packed with conflicting opinions regarding ethics, economics and a couple of million other things. If you really want to explore its depths, check out the writings of Bob Hoffmann, AKA the Ad Contrarian, but if you want to explore the tension between creativity and data, read on…

First of all, what do we mean by ‘data’? I once did a Hyper Island workshop where one of the staff asked what we thought ‘digital’ meant. The 40 of us in attendance all gave different answers. Funny, that, isn’t it? A word we all use every day and there’s no clear, agreed definition of what it means. Data is now the same. Far from its actual definition as some collection of facts or statistics, it is now a catch-all term for the data-centric advertising produced by companies such as Facebook and Google.

The advertising creative’s automatic response to those two words is eerily similar to the response to sticking a couple of fingers down your throat. And I get it: I don’t have a Facebook account and I don’t use Google, Instagram or Snapchat, because I don’t see how they contribute to a world that works for everyone. But we’re here to discuss their advertising and the way in which it differs from the stuff that appears on billboards, in the pages of Vogue, or during the middle break of Corrie.