Art and Analytics: How Creatives and Strategists Can Play Nice

Originally Posted On
Huffington Post

There’s a competition going on in advertising today. It’s a battle of the hearts and minds. But it’s not simply represented by the fight for people’s attention. This war has another front as agencies struggle between seemingly opposing forces, data and creativity, to bring their messages to life.

The struggle between art and science is nothing new. It existed back in the days of Leonardo da Vinci. He traversed it all, broke down barriers and left people wondering if he was an artist or a scientist. Leo hated labels, and agencies should look to him for inspiration.

Traditionally, our job as marketers is to connect, inspire and persuade. The degree of that persuasion depends on many things: platforms, audience, campaign objectives, investment level, etc. But what informs our direction within this set of variables is a simple word: data. And because it is available in ways never before seen, it sometimes creates friction between creatives and strategists.

In the eyes of the creative department, data gives people what they expect, whereas creative gives people what they don’t. Each day, art directors and writers try to break standards and not fit in, whereas strategists point us toward which performs best based on historical data and competitive intelligence. Then, they solicit work that leverages and embraces those elements accordingly.

How can a contemporary agency faced with new challenges use both data and creativity wisely– to find the intersection that makes great creative more strategic and great strategy more creative? Collaboration (yawn, I know) is key. And although everyone preaches that, it is more than just getting in a room together. Creatives and strategists need to work together to make art and analytics a part of the agency ritual. Here are a few tips to get started:

1. Understand and align incentives

Strategists and creatives are working toward the same goal, but coming at it from different angles. So, it’s important to understand their gameplay, and navigate that nuance.

Creatives don’t like constraint. They don’t want to hear that work needs to be under 10 seconds, have a persistent logo or account for “sound off.” Right or wrong, creatives are driven by the idea, not the box by which it is shipped, however important that box is purported to be.

And strategists, well, they don’t like unnecessary risk. They often mitigate it at all costs in service of a more guaranteed performance. They can rely on the proven tactics and tools of a particular platform, and not deviate too much from the more predictable norm.

Makes sense. But it’s important for both creative and strategist to navigate that middle ground, to work together so the idea breaks through, yet still fits in. Because it must do both.

2. Transcend traditional role definitions

To strike a balance, creative and strategists must transcend traditional agency roles. Creatives need to think like strategists and strategists need to think like creatives. Strategists are naturally curious. They look at something and deconstruct. They question things, look for patterns, lift up rocks. It’s like a painter not just thinking about the art, but where the art will hang, who will be viewing it, and how it will earn an audience. It’s the vessel as well as the creation.

As a creative, remember that data and the people behind it are looking out for the work too. Strategists want ideas that perform to their maximum potential, moving with the full tailwind of proven creative mechanics. They want it to break through, even though it sometimes feels like they simply want conformity. They don’t.

3. Strategists, trust the numbers, but don't forget your gut

Strategists, sometimes it’s important to look away from the numbers, acknowledge the risk, and trust your gut (or other people’s). Not all work will make sense in a vertical format, but it might have qualities that make that best practice inconsequential, or untidy to fit in. Don’t always look for what’s not working, look for what is working, and plus it. Shoot for gray when black-and-white aren’t quite right.

4. Acknowledge the risk, but present the reward

Creatives and strategists need to get the client on board. But should not hide the risk and hope the client doesn’t notice. Know the rule you are breaking, why it’s in place and provide a strong rationale for why you are breaking it. Clients will always want to hedge their bets with data. But they also want to help produce work that breaks through the cluttered landscape. They want to take informed risks. Come together, make your choices, build your case, and when you deviate, be ready to articulate why.

5. Strike a balance

It’s a balancing act, but all teams need to reach across the aisle to make it work. Today, ideas don’t simply live on their own. They come with the benefit and baggage of the ideas before them, guided by the data that travels in their wake.

Remember, data is not the enemy of creative, nor is it the knight in shining armor. Those who are smart, willingly adaptive, transcendent and innovative can navigate that balance and produce work born from science and art, as Leonardo da Vinci did six centuries ago.

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