How Data Is Transforming The Creative Process

Every day Buzzfeed publishes more than 600 pieces of content and while many believe science determines whether the platform writes about crazy cats or the funniest Bernie Sanders quotes, intuition still plays a massive role in its coverage, says Buzzfeed's CMO Frank Cooper during a presentation hosted by OMD during Cannes Lions. 

It is this balance between art and science that is the Holy Grail for creatives, panelists said at the OMD Oasis at Cannes Lions. Cooper was joined by Matthew Luhn, story supervisor, Pixar; Konrad Feldman, CEO, Quantcast; and Wendy Clark, CEO, DDB North America with moderator Omnicom's Claudia Cahill to discuss how data informs the emotional connection to deliver effective creative and storytelling.  

It is common knowledge that the marriage between data and creativity is disrupting the industry. In order to adjust to this new form of communication, DDB North America is evolving its creative model, says Clark. Today's business is about immediacy, she says. "Our teams have to be structured around speed." As a result, the agency is introducing a 24-7 content unit specifically to oversee one client. "They are open 24 hours and want to be engaged with their customers 24 hours," says Clark. 



Yet, this always-on business model pushes up against money. Clients may need 24-7 service, but they also seek lower fees.  

Meanwhile, there is no lack of data, so the challenge is to do something intelligent with that information. "The ultimate blend of art and science," says Clark.  

Quantcast's Feldman Konrad cautions, "Too much data is not effectively being used." One of the more effective strategies is to use data to understand how expectations match up against reality, he says. For instance, Quantcast recently worked with a company selling a drug aimed at older men. The tech company's research showed website visitors were skewing young and female. It turns out this younger audience served as caregivers and were concerned about their dads. 

Pixar is well-known for its creativity, yet its artists don't work organically without science. They may be 'artistes' but they still work with budgets within a big business. As such, data informs specific nuances that organize its storytelling throughout the entire project. "You guys don't get to see the 20 bad versions," says Luhn. "It is a trial and error process." From the start, directors pitch three different story ideas and executives pick the best concept using data that identifies, among other factors, which concept will sell the most toys. 

Data helps provide critical feedback to shorten the project's development. "Creating story is all about elimination," says Luhn. "If I had three ideas that I thought were awesome and if I could get in front of as many audiences as possible and they could tell me what they like best. Saves me time and grief for what the public may not want." 

Still, it is essential not to lean too much into the data. Disney, for instance, wanted to shut down Toy Story because they didn't think Woody was a good character due to focus group data that showed that people thought he was a jerk. Data saved the franchise by showing that people actually loved the quirky character.  

Science also helped Pixar deliver a stronger emotional connection with its characters. The studio worked with researchers to analyze human behavior that the animators then incorporated into characters. For instance, people look up when they remember images. If someone asks what they did last night, they will gaze upward, says Luhn. Pupils stay focused directly ahead when people remember audio and when someone asks how a person feels, they will look down. Eyes turn right when telling the truth and left when lying. 

"We connect with facial expressions," says Luhn which is why Pixar incorporates the micro and macro expressions into its characters. "Because when audiences watch whether it is a truck, toy, or rat, they are going to connect with them. It's in our DNA, we connect with our facial expressions."

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