by Craig Hannabus (@crayg) With the omnipresent nature of data and creative people being who they are, there are some new ideas floating around. This has led to some confusion as to how data should be used.

The importance of data in the ad industry around the globe has gained popularity. With better tools coming onto the market, agencies which are devoted to sourcing qualitative data and clients savvier with regards to current trends, data has become an industry all on its own.

Where is and isn’t it applicable?

My first port of call was Maarten Vanhoof, a data scientist at the Open Lab at Newcastle University. To say that he knows data is an understatement — he’s devoted a large amount of time to analysing and interpreting data from a multitude of sources. Vanhoof is currently working on a project to determine more-effective placements of urban infrastructure, such as shopping malls or help centres. Looking at foot traffic, location-based cellular usage, public-transport use and other data points, Vanhoof can roughly determine where to place stuff to maximise their effectiveness. All of this based, mostly, on quantitative data. In other words, it’s a reflection of what people are doing.

I asked him if he believed that we could use quantitative data to determine what our creative ideas should look like. The example he used was simple. If your quantitative data tells you that your target market likes the colour blue, how does that determine your creative? Easy. Just make sure that your creative is blue. It’s an easy creative brief because it gives a very clear instruction.

The downside is that your chances of building something new and innovative drop to zero. Your creative team may put together a campaign that may be fairly successful, but you’re not going to make any real impact on a consumer’s life. The road to innovation doesn’t really start until you begin the process of interrogating and gleaning qualitative data.

So what is the correct approach?

Going back to our previous example ,where we used quantitative data to establish a behaviour, we then have to examine that data further by asking what drives that behaviour. Why does the target market like the colour blue? In order to find out why, we may have to step out of the office and pose that question to actual people. A scary thought, indeed. What we may find (for the sake of our example) is that people like the colour blue because it is calming. Suddenly, our creative brief has far more scope. We are still working within the constraints of what we know is true, but we have more options as to how to execute. Sure, we can take the easy route and make our creative blue, but maybe there are some other ways to make our campaign more calming.

Data leads to insight; insight is what leads to great creative. This might seem obvious to most strategists and creatives, and I am probably preaching to the converted, but I think it is relatively important to remind ourselves of this. As we move into a time of deeper uncertainty, politically, socially and economically, it becomes more and more important for us to connect with people in a more meaningful and consistent fashion. The word “authenticity” has always been bandied around in advertising circles but, at what appears to be the dawn of a new era, authenticity has taken on a new layer of importance.

So, how do we elevate authenticity and create room for innovation?

1. Make sure you have an insight

Very often, data is dressed up as an insight. Our insight? According to our findings, the target market likes the colour blue. That isn’t an insight; that’s just a bit of data.

Let me use a deeper example. In some recent research, we found that our target market was aspirational. In the South African context, that’s hardly something to get excited about and, very often, that sort of thing is presented as an insight. “We need to be more aspirational,” says the slide. But that doesn’t answer the “why” question. Why are people aspirational? If you can answer that using qualitative research, you’re close to finding an insight.

2. Quantitative and qualitative

These two go hand-in-hand. Be very wary of any insights you’ve gleaned where both qualitative and quantitative data aren’t involved.

I recently witnessed an example where a presentation clearly demonstrated that the sales of a certain brand had fallen; however, the consumer’s perception was that the brand was extremely successful and well-liked. There is a dissonance there. One of those pieces of information is either flawed or untrue.

Always make sure that your qualitative and quantitative data are working together. If they aren’t, make sure you know why.

3. Maintain objectivity

It may be very hard to put your preconceived notions, your assumptions and, in some cases, your prejudices aside. You’ll need to, because when you’re chewing on data to find an insight, you can’t afford to have anything coloured by preconceived notions. Maintain an open mind, and it is very likely that you will be surprised.

Wherever you can, attempt to apply the Socratic method. Prove your assumptions wrong and you’ll come one step closer to the truth.


Data in advertising is a new toy; we’re still learning how to play with it. We may either cheat and mould it to say what we want it to, or we may be patient and use it to build better products and a better world.


Craig HannabusCraig Hannabus (@crayg), a creative strategist at Havas Boondoggle, has spent his entire adult life in the technology and marketing industry, exploring both the development and the content creation aspects of it. Through the years, he has developed a strong interest in the psychology and sociology around social media, as well as exploring the depths of user experience and web development.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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