Cannes 2023: Data strategy still hiding under a bushel

Paul_AlexanderNow that the creative industry has lightened the Croisette of several thousand bottles of the palest rosé and the exciting evacuation of the Martinez is a diminishing memory, the thing that struck me about this year’s Cannes Lions winners was that while, undeniably, creative; the impact was lost somewhere along the way.

Before I get booed off the metaphorical stage – don’t worry I’m used to it – I started my career in advertising, but became increasingly frustrated by the lack of data and the distinct lack of curiosity (at that time) about the potential of data. So, I chucked in the glamour and set up a data business, which back then was about as sexy as a wet weekend in Bognor.

Fast forward a few years and, finally, data earns a seat at the creative table, with the Creative Data Lions being added to the roster in 2015. I dug out the blurb that was used to launch them.

Here it is: “In recent years, the use of data has enabled the creative industry to shape complex new ideas, drive mass engagement and tell a more powerful story than ever before. The Creative Data Lions were created to recognise campaigns using this data as a catalyst for creativity; game-changing campaigns that clearly demonstrate an execution enhanced by the use, interpretation, analysis or application of data. The Creative Data Lions will help the industry celebrate a new benchmark in data-inspired campaigns.”

All well and good, but if I’m honest, it still felt like data was not the co-star of its own category. Its light was still hiding behind the creative bushel.

Fast forward eight years and the category info has moved on. This is what was written on this year’s website: “The Creative Data Lions in 2023 celebrate the interplay of ideas and information. Entries will need to demonstrate how the work was enhanced or driven by the creative use, interpretation, analysis or application of data. The creative use of data must sit at the core of the idea and the results / impact must be clear and robust. ”

Excellent – we’re into impact and measurability! But to my disappointment there has been no mention in any of the press write-ups of results. The campaign for Stella Artois is super cool and very clever. It uses data to shine a light on more than 600 years of the beer brand’s heritage. The series of print and outdoor ads shows paintings by celebrated articles, like Van Gogh, Manet and Breughel – each one featuring people drinking beer.

Data points, such as the year the picture was painted, its geographical location, the shape of the glass and colour of the liquid, have been run through a specially created algorithm to calculate the probability that the subjects are drinking Stella Artois – with that number used to caption the painting. Interplay of ideas and information – definitely. Impact – missing in action.

As the sun sets on another Lions, next year I’d love to see information and ideas on a level pegging with impact being celebrated as much as the clever application. We’ll wait and see… but while I’m at it, if another category Creative Data Transformation could also be launched, I’d be doubly delighted.

Paul Alexander is chief executive of Beyond: Putting Data to Work

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