Numb and Number

How Brand Creatives and Analysts Co-exist

One of the great myths of anyone going into advertising, communications, or branding industries is that you need to be a creative genius and that math does not matter. We call think of the great campaigns that inspire us, the slogans that get stuck in our heads forever, and the jingles that play on even while we sleep. Creativity and inspiration are elusive and sometimes frighteningly hard to pin down.

And they are only a small part of the story in branding.

I admit that I have been guilty of allowing the data to fall behind and to take a secondary place compared to visuals and texts and other outbursts of creativity. But the sad fact is anyone who does this is wrong. Anyone who does not honor the data is doing the client a disservice.

The best campaigns do not spring whole from the head of the Creative Director. The reality is that they often do not surface until a lot of work and research has already been done. Creativity would be irrelevant without the data behind it.

The data shows the artist what to draw and the poet what to think about. It doesn’t in any way stymie creativity, on the contrary. By crunching the numbers and discovering, for example, that your new vacuum cleaner is scoring very well with new householders, under 22 years old, single, with an interest in gaming, you have already helped the creative team to focus their efforts and concentration on a specific area. This will lead to creativity that is not only brilliant (we hope), but that will also easily connect with the target audience.

The Quick and the Dead

One example that comes to mind is the six-day rebrand of the Gap. On October 6, 2012, the Gap abandoned the logo that they had been using since 1986 and which was almost universally known and substituted a new, edgier, minimalistic logo (on the right side). Six days later, on October 12, the old logo was reinstated to the embarrassment and huge expense of the Gap management.

The main reason for the failure was not because the creatives were wrong or bad. But they did not consult the consumers or look into the data before they leaped. And as to why it happened in the first place, the answer is less than comprehensible:

‘Gap’s announcement following the uproar said, “We’ve had the same logo for 20+ years, and this is just one of the things we’re changing.” Asked what the company liked about the logo, VP of corporate communications Bill Chandler said, “We believe this is a more contemporary, modern expression. The only nod to the past is that there’s still a blue box, but it looks forward.”’  ( )

Much like Coca-Cola’s 1987 mistake with New Coke, the Gap’s senior management failed to realize the value of its long-standing logo and the loyalty that it inspired. Even if it was short, the move reportedly cost the brand better than US$100 million and jeopardized the trust of thousands of customers.

And all they would have needed to do was ask the right questions earlier and look at the numbers.

Over the years, I have heard the complaints of designers and creatives in many different fields bemoaning the unfeeling accountants and bookkeepers who have no passion and no feeling for design. How can they possibly tell us what we should do? I always understood them, but they were not exactly right.

Johannes Wtenbogaert *oil on canvas *130 x 103 cm *signed t.r.: Rembrandt Ft. / 1633 *inscribed t.l.: ÆT:· 76In brands, the designer and the illustrator are indeed artists, but they have to work to a brief in order for the result to make sense. This is not a renaissance painter choosing to depict a landscape in oils because he feels like it. This is more like Rembrandt painting a portrait of Johannes Wtenbogaer in 1633 because Abraham Anthonisz paid for it. The portrait is still a singular work of art – but the choice was dictated by numbers (guilders in this case).

The brand professionals should work hard to understand the identity of a brand, what it stands for, and to whom it will have meaning. The parameters that they established are then turned over to the creatives to work within them, or nearly, in order to arrive at a satisfactory outcome, be it in the form of a print ad, a tv spot, or a slogan.

It is widely agreed that the future is about creativity inspired by or aided by data. The data could be as personal as consumer insights telling you that the breakfast cereal you have launched should have brighter colors for kids to like it better. It could be information from focus groups that point you toward greater clarity for your insurance brokerage. Every scrap of information is useful to making great creatives – not as restrictions but, rather, as new colors added to the palette.

And what of inspiration? It’s strictly by the numbers.

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