Data is important but the ad industry’s obsession with both it and process is killing creativity. You can’t create difference if you rely on the conformity of process and the safety of data.

Process and data are the advertising equivalent of the Health & Safety Executive. We know they’re important and accept that they have a role but they also get in the way of creativity and ideas. When was the last time you saw a brand campaign that really made you think, the sort that people like Bill Bernbach and Hal Riney, champions of intuition over science, excelled at? There’s plenty of innovation through data, technology and insights, but innovation and creativity are not the same thing.

Today, caution is king. Campaigns are safe. Even award winning work is characterised by conformity and a warm fluffy feeling. It’s the creative equivalent of easy listening music.

Despite what the data scientists tell you – whose job it is to make money selling data – nobody really understands what motivates individual purchasing behaviour. If they did, every ad would work. It’s estimated that 89% of marketing and advertising isn’t noticed at all. That’s £17 billion wasted, if you’re interested, much of it ‘justified’ by data. (Read this article by ‘Raving Adman’ Simon Sinclair for a brilliant take down).

Like most things in life, it’s about balance. Knowing what data to use, understanding which insights are relevant and, most importantly, applying them to your human instinct and over-riding them if that’s what feels right. We all know this but the fear of making mistakes drives us into the safe arms of rigour, logic and process. It is the refuge of the meek and the mild. It allows us to say, when an ad fails, that at least the data supported the idea. It’s a cop out.

As David Ogilvy said, “Consumers do not think how they feel. They don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.” Quite.