Lessons From the Cannes Lions: The Creative Data Category


What’s the state of data-driven creative, and how can marketers improve their efforts to drive sophisticated, relevant campaigns that resonate with consumers? Two judges for the Cannes Lions Awards—John Lucker, advisory principal and global advanced analytics market leader at Deloitte & Touche LLP, and Jim Caruso, chief product officer at Anomaly—share their thoughts.

Marketers are often quick to talk about the importance of data and how insights can help brands target audiences with personalized, timely ad creative that rises above the din of competing messages. However, for all the discourse about marketing as a blend of art and science, for many marketers, achieving a symbiotic relationship between numbers and ideas isn’t easy.

The evolving dynamic between data and creative is very evident at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. For the past several years, ad tech and digital media companies have descended on the Riviera for the weeklong event, expanding the focus beyond creative. But in Cannes, as elsewhere, it’s not always clear how well creative directors and data scientists are working together. As judges for the festival’s Lions Innovation Creative Data award category this year, we saw impressive campaigns, but also many that revealed creatives’ uncertainty about how to use data effectively.

We evaluated approximately 800 entries for the category, which celebrates campaigns enhanced or driven by the creative use of data. The group included 11 subcategories, among them data storytelling, data visualization, and use of real-time data. What insights did this exercise provide into the state of creative data? Overall, some marketers are making significant headway in this area, but many others are still falling short.

Across the entire category, some common themes emerged among the best entries, offering lessons for marketers:

Use data subtly and unobtrusively. Campaigns that use data in an obvious way—sending overly specific messages to just a few people, for example—can be off-putting to the audience, for a few reasons. Such efforts can trigger privacy concerns among consumers, fail to align with the brand message, or appear gimmicky rather than useful. For marketers, it can be a challenge to use data in a measured, thoughtful, and tactful—not creepy—way.

For marketers, it can be a challenge to use data in a measured, thoughtful, and tactful—not creepy—way.

View the customer holistically. Many marketers still limit themselves to siloed data gathered from one channel or division of an organization. Even if companies have an integrated view of the customer based on information from different functions within their own organization, they often neglect to integrate information from external sources—for example, point-of-sale, social media, or credit card data. Many of the campaigns that most creatively use data do so with a comprehensive, nuanced understanding of the target audience. These marketers develop unique ways to connect with customers and prospects, often drawing insights from their previous behavior.

Use insights to fuel and optimize a core creative idea. Developing a powerful creative idea using behavioral data is often just the beginning. Many of the most effective campaigns continue to use such information to iterate, improve, and amplify the initial strategy. Many marketers claim they are using data to drive creative and communication plans, but often they are simply looking for the numbers that corroborate an existing idea or strategy. By considering data and creative in unison at the beginning stages of the effort, marketers are more likely to connect with the audience.

Engage consumers in a two-way conversation. For social media campaigns, many marketers rely on influencers, brand-sponsored posts, or generic one-to-many messaging. At Cannes Lions, however, many of the campaigns that employed social data most skillfully did so by approaching social media platforms as a way to create and continue dialogue directly with consumers through evolving and useful interactions. These exchanges were relevant because they used information provided by the audience, either in the social environment or when combined with external data, to provide a utility to consumers or delight them with unexpected help, instead of just serving them another advertisement.

Leverage data for real-time targeting. Many marketers are already using data to better target consumers—for example, by using programmatic buying—but few marketers are pushing the limits when it comes to creating dynamic and relevant messaging outside of remarketing. Leveraging data can present a tremendous innovation opportunity for marketers to better target consumers, but doing so will likely require the high-quality data needed to create precise messaging.

Prioritize data accuracy. Data can be surprisingly inaccurate, and marketers who use significantly flawed information can risk driving customers and prospects away rather than bringing them closer. A major issue for marketers and brands remains the difficulty of determining whether the data in which they’ve invested is accurate or valuable. Many of the marketers who are seeing strong results aren’t operating on hunches; they rely on sound data governance and data science practices to help ensure the information they use is reliable, timely, and evolving. Faulty insights can doom a campaign from the earliest stages.


This year’s Cannes Lions festival is now a memory, and next year’s is still many months away. For marketers, however, the questions we asked ourselves as judges are likely worth asking about all creative data efforts. What problem is the campaign solving? What data is it applying? How is the campaign gathering, assimilating, analyzing, and interpreting data in a creative way or in support of ad creative? These questions likely will be increasingly important for marketers to discuss with both analytics and creative talent at the table. Just as at Cannes Lions, the answers are likely to be compelling, challenging, promising—and critical to defining what makes a marketing effort effective.

This article first appeared in www.deloitte.wsj.com

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About Author

John Lucker

John is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP, Global Advanced Analytics & Modeling Market leader, and a leader for Deloitte Analytics. He is a leader of Deloitte’s Advanced Analytics & Modeling practice, one of the leading analytics groups in the professional services industry. John leads the delivery of consulting services for end-to-end strategy, business, operational, and technical consulting in the areas of advanced business analytics, predictive modeling, data mining, scoring, and rule.​

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