It’s not just hype: Real changes to consumer behavior are driving adoption of data-driven creative

Data-driven creative is a hot topic these days. Consider the following developments.

A brand-new media agency, Omnicom’s Hearts and Sciences, shocked the industry by winning P&G and AT&T accounts based on a promise of better linkage between media data and creative execution.

Venerable creative agency Leo Burnett earlier this year launched what it calls “The Core,” a unit within the agency that will “take the best of digital insight, the best of CRM and the best of human understanding, and link it all together as one powerful offering,” said North America CEO Andrew Swinand.

In a speech to “Young Lions” at Cannes, Alan Schulman, managing director of brand creative and content marketing at Deloitte Digital, talked about the insights data can provide creatives, allowing them to “validate campaign resonance before launch,” among other things.

Deloitte Digital's Alan Schulman (@Digschulman) teaching the #YoungLions about data driven creative and advertising. pic.twitter.com/3Hq1hc4s5g

— Deloitte Digital (@DeloitteDigital) June 21, 2017

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

So clients want it. Agencies want to deliver it. Really smart people are thinking about the problem of how to get there. And everyone on the front line of this transformation is quickly learning that getting there will require fundamental changes in the process of creative development and in the way media and creative agencies collaborate.

Speaking at a panel discussion in London, Lauren Pleydell-Pearce, creative director at Wunderman UK, said one problem is that media is often purchased before the creative team is even brought in. But she pointed to a recent experience that’s been different — in a good way.

“We’ve been concepting with the media agency and it has been mind-blowing,” she said, according to a write-up of the discussion. “We shared our data, they shared theirs — and that’s a rare conversation because it’s normally so siloed.”

For all that has been written, I believe the underlying imperative that’s driving this wave has not gotten nearly enough attention. There is more going on here than the general cliché to “serve the right ad to the right person at the right time.” And while the maturing of DMPs (data management platforms) and programmatic creative platforms have certainly enabled that dream to take the first steps to become reality, what’s fueling the dream is the recognition of a rapidly changing consumer.

The real story is about the consumer, not about the tech or the data.

The evolution of consumer behavior

The last seven years or so have ushered in an increasingly dramatic transformation in the way consumers consume media. It really started with the iPhone, then accelerated with the iPad — and is now going into overdrive with the explosive growth of online content.

This combination of media mobility and online content means that consumers are now experiencing the majority of their content and advertising while they are on the run, multitasking and engaged in multiscreen behavior. This reality is in stark contrast to the historical assumption of an engaged consumer who is experiencing ads in a “lean-back” posture while focused on singular content.

If you have teenagers in your home, you’ve seen this played out in the extreme, as they watch TV, look at videos on their tablet and text with friends all at the same time. But even examining our own behavior as adults, how often do we watch television without multitasking on our laptop or phone?

For me, the sort of focused attention that was once expected is increasingly rare. And this “fragmentation of attention” has profound implications for how consumers process ads, and in turn for how we as professionals create ad campaigns to connect with that consumer.

Not surprisingly, there is a meaningful amount of academic research on how multitasking and distraction impact how we cognitively process information. Virtually all of it suggests that our ability to notice, understand and retain information is meaningfully diminished when our attention is fragmented.

Further research specific to advertising confirms that ad messages suffer even more because our brains are trained to filter out non-relevant information, especially ads. So the consumer we are advertising to today is NOT the same consumer we were advertising to just a few years ago. Their fragmented attention demands highly relevant communication (i.e., driven by data) that was not nearly as necessary before.

This isn’t a problem that advertisers can solve through repetition alone. Advertisers are increasingly finding that frequency without ad variety doesn’t help much — that the mind of today’s multitasking consumer values novelty and is quick to evaluate repetitive stimuli as not relevant because it has seen it before. That means that both substantive and visual variation of ads are essential for break-through to consumers. And this is not just for direct response ads; branding ads are also subject to the same need for contextual relevance and dynamic variation.

All of this circles back around to say: there is a darn good reason why everyone is trying to figure out data-driven creative. It’s no longer a “nice to have.” It has become the essential foundation for influencing the new, distracted consumer.

Advertising that is not data-inspired, data-enabled, personally relevant and relevant across time and context is increasingly advertising wasted.

Advertisers understand this and are demanding solutions. The technology is already here. Now we just have to develop the industry know-how, methodologies and processes to take advantage of it.