Keeping it Real: The Role of Data in Creativity

When Digitas Health first began, we decided that media and creative should sit together as one department. We did this because media had become so much more than simply buying spaces to fill; it had evolved into a key part of the creative process. It did not just carry the idea; sometimes it was the idea. The same is now happening with data. It has switched from being a reporting function to being one of the most powerful creative tools we have: empowering us to deliver better, more relevant and ultimately more real experiences. And when it is real, it makes a much deeper human connection with our audiences.

Dick Orkin, the famous radio writer, insisted on only using true stories in his scripts. He believed that if a script was based on real human experiences it had a truth that people would instantly connect to. You could set it on Mars and it would still feel familiar.

Back then, Orkin got his data from his personal life and the lives of his writers. Today, in the era of “Big Data,” we are blessed with a huge amount of data from a wide range of sources. However the real opportunity is not necessarily the quantity of information, but the immediacy of this data. We are no longer confined to looking back at what happened; data is capturing the world as it happens.

The other shift is that our audiences have become comfortable with using data. The devices they carry have accustomed them to working with data flowing in and, importantly for us, out in real time. This is creating a lot of opportunities for us to connect with them. Not just to market at them, but to involve them in the process of creating experiences.

There is a really interesting recent example of this from Sweden. It seems that the good people of Stockholm are the least likely to have safe sex in Europe. To try and change this behavior Condom8 launched “The Sex Profile” and distributed 50,000 free condoms. Each condom wrapper had a QR code that downloaded an app to record the, ahem, “rhythm, sound levels and duration” from the bedside. This data created a sexual activity graph that people could post to the site along with anonymous personal data. Condom8 then used this to create a highly engaging and data-centric advertising campaign that the audience knew to be true, because they had written it. Posters and banners started appearing everywhere with statistics such as: “Romantic Punks makes the most noise,” “dog owners are louder than cat owners” and “blonde rockers like getting laid between 11 pm and 1 am.” By the end of last summer, results showed that thousands of people had taken part and, most importantly for the sexual health of the Swedes, 39% of the audience said they were more likely to use condoms.

But it isn’t just about changing the way that we do advertising. The immediacy of data today is allowing real-time connections and community to help shape products and services too. Nike is one brand that has developed some very successful physical products, such as Nike+ and Fuelband that capture and stream data, but there are others that don’t require an extra device.

GymPact is a great example of this. It is based on a simple premise: you register with a commitment to visit your gym a certain number of times per week and pay a fine if you don’t turn up. GymPact is a mobile app that uses geo-location to track every trip to the gym. If you don’t make it to your workout, GymPact takes a pre-agreed financial penalty off of your credit card, starting at $5 and going as high as you’re prepared to pay. But, there is also a reward beyond your killer bod. The penalties collected from people who didn’t hit their goal are shared out between the members who did. By July last year, GymPact reported that it had incentivized over 250,000 workouts and paid out $100,000 in rewards.

The use of data to record, create and influence real-life experiences as they happen is here to stay. We even have a new phrase in our lexicon to sum it up: Life Tracking. This is an important idea for us in the health space, as it pushes us to learn and react to what is happening in the real world.

If we are successful, we will we will transform how we interact with patients and doctors. Rather than expecting them to conform to expectations, we will be working with them to co-create communications and content that are more relevant, more engaging and ultimately better experiences for everyone. For real.

  • Graham Mills

    Graham Mills is the Executive Creative Director at the New York Office of Digitas Health. Graham’s career in advertising spans over 25 years of bringing his passion for new ideas to many top global consumer and health brands. His zeal for his craft has helped him win nearly 30 creative awards and over 100 as a creative director.

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