Will big data suppress or inspire the creative process?

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Who has the most to lose as the machine learning of big data overwhelms the world of advertising? It would seem the "creatives," whose artful insights into human nature created the industry, have the most to lose as their group demographics grow quaint and their intuitive fingers are lifted from the pulse of the market in favor of hardcore analysis. But wouldn't we all suffer a bit if creativity is supplanted by the black-and-white results of algorithmic outputs?

One such creative says it doesn't have to be that way. In a blog last week called "The Death of Subjectivity: How Real-Time Analytics Can Actually Bolster Creativity," Tina Chadwick, creative director at Moxie Group, said that "dwindling are the days of subjectivity and pure creative opinion." You might think that a negative statement for an advertising expert to make, but the only word in it that is negative is "pure."

The pure creative process can be wrong; its results can be over the head of its audience and it could be based on faulty assumptions. But big data and analytics merely give creatives more information on which to base their messages. It provides, as Chadwick calls it, the proof: The inarguable facts of what consumers will and won't do or buy according to action and not intention. She said creative freedom lies in being able to understand what is defined by current learnings.

In a follow-up Q&A with MediaPost Publications this week, Chadwick said that just because big data makes the creative process more scientific, it doesn't follow that it is formulaic. "I think analytics just defines the space in which you play a little more so that you have a fence around your playground. It gives you constraints. I hate to say that, because the word constraints makes it sound limiting, but it's more about having informed borders that steer you away from things that aren't working."

Srinidhi Melkote, analytics director at Wyndham Exchange and Rentals, a division of hospitality company Wyndham Worldwide, agrees that misconceptions persist regarding the effects of big data on the creative process. In AdAge last week, he said big data does not provide anything unique on its own. He echoed Chadwick by saying the new challenge is applying creativity to come up with the right questions. This applies not only to advertisers and marketers, or creatives, but to the data analysts themselves.

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