22/03/2013 12:27 GMT | Updated 19/05/2013 06:12 BST

Data and Mobile Creative: Can't We All Just Get Along?

How many times today have I heard the catch phrase "big data"? More times than I can count on both hands. Whether you're an art director and copywriter duo at one of the big digital agencies or the CMO of a major CPG brand, chances are you (or your boss/client) has asked at some point or another: "Is big data killing creativity?" Given this tight rope that a lot of creative professionals and brand marketers walk, it didn't really come as a big surprise when I heard the same lively debate in the Wired Global Conversation panel at Advertising Week Europe today.

In advertising, the ability to tell a compelling story that evokes emotions (humour, suspense, fear or compassion), engages audiences, pushes the boundaries of creativity and innovates through the use of technology often distinguishes a successful campaign from a "flop." John Kamen, Chairman and CEO of Radical Media, seems to feel the same way. Quoting fashion icon Coco Chanel, Kamen professed, "It's not the brief, it's the feeling." But as we've seen with digital advertising, data has begun to take shape and gain relevance for brands looking to connect and engage with consumers on their always on-always connected mobile devices - be it their iPhone, Samsung Galaxy Note, iPad, Amazon Kindle Fire or any of the thousands of devices available to consumers worldwide. As important (to a certain degree) data is in mobile advertising, it's not the only thing that matters and shouldn't by any means drive the creative execution of mobile ads. Ads, be they on mobile devices, laptops or TV sets, are only as good as the story they tell.

Now don't get me wrong here - I'm not saying data should be tossed out the window altogether and ignored. There are some important learnings that can be made from data, especially when it comes to how consumers are using their mobile devices, the types of information/services that peek their interest most, and what types of ads resonate most with them. Looking at data can help brands and their creative agencies fine tune their mobile creative executions to be more compelling, engaging, relevant and useful. And these are all things that consumers want out of the mobile ad experience - so shouldn't brands deliver these promises to them?

In some instances, data can actually spawn a major branding success. Geico CMO Ted Ward recently described how data spawned the Gecko lizard into an icon that's recognized all over the world. "The green scaly spokes-character...was actually born in a petri dish of data...we analyzed results from running the first set of Gecko TV spots and liked the bump in business volume. We were able to attribute the increased business to the campaign and decided to move forward with additional Gecko executions. From that point on we have incorporated more traditional market research to track and monitor consumer sentiment related to the little green guy." That's a great example of how data, when analyzed, can turn an idea into a long-lasting, iconic and memorable brand.

Sir John Hegarty, Founder and Creative Director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), put things into perspective when he said, matter-of-factly: "If you spend too much time looking at data, you're not seeing what's going on around you. Brands aren't just made by the people who buy it, but by the people who know it. If you can't balance the two, then you won't build the brand." Balance the two and don't put all your eggs into either the data or creative basket. Use both in conjunction with each other (when relevant) and let each one help the other tell a better story, engage people, evoke stronger emotions and, ultimately, translate into more ROI and revenue.