The Power of Quantified Creativity

By Ciaran McKivergan, CEO and founding partner at 8909 

We live in a data-driven world, with more information – and therefore more insights – available than at any point in human history. So why aren’t we using that data to create better… everything? Nothing is more powerful in advertising than an epic idea – but the opportunity is wasted if it’s executed badly, and Quantified Creativity is the best way of bringing the two together to execute with excellence.

When I was studying Psychology and Media Studies, I learned that in academic writing, you can only claim or state something if it is backed by research. When I started advertising, I assumed that all strategies were being developed in the same way – but that turned out to be a false assumption.

That insight led to the development of the idea of Quantified Creativity, which brings together analysis and application of all this data with the electric spark of genius that lives within the best agencies, who deliver great campaigns in partnership with clients who trust them.

A few years ago, putting together a data-driven campaign was incredibly laborious – but I found a willing and brave partner in Coca-Cola, who commissioned the first data-driven ad campaign in the country at a previous agency. We used social listening to inform the strategy which helped us determine what to say and how to say it, based on the conversations South Africans were having. That campaign shot the lights out in terms of success for the client, but it also won just about every award it was entered for – from New Generation Awards to Loeries, to Bookmarks. Having proved that a campaign driven by data insights could work, we tried to roll the model out to other clients – but they weren’t biting.

When I had the opportunity to establish 8909, I knew we had to be informed by that confluence of data and creativity, so we based our entire philosophy on Quantified Creativity. All the data we can access to inform a strategy is brought together and rolled out in a DIA process – Data, Insights, and Actions. 

The Data aspect is the listening, mining, and refining of the data, which leads to the development of the insight that will inform the successful campaign. The campaign itself is the Action. Measuring the effectiveness and reception of the campaign gives us more data, which allows us to optimize, A/B test, and change the creative, which brings down media costs and increases efficiencies. It also produces epic results.

The greatest challenge in getting clients to buy into this approach is that there’s just so much data out there, and if you simply show them the data, you overwhelm them with numbers. It’s our job to mine that mountain of data for insights – we can look at it and develop the correct insights because our people can read the data like John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, which is a hard-to-find skill.

We can tell clients that these magnificent data-led insights will deliver success – but the great thing is that the data generated while the campaign is running demonstrates that, on the on-the-fly. That said, it’s essential to develop KPIs at the beginning of a campaign, based on the client’s objectives. People often conflate KPIs and objectives, but they’re really two different things. The objective for a campaign may be: “I want to reach more people and sell more products”, while the KPI is a target of how many people the client wants to reach and how many products they want to sell. Once we’ve established those metrics, we can use the data to inform the media spend, ideal campaign duration, and rollout. 

It’s a simplification of performance vs perception – we know how many people we need to reach to achieve the client’s aims, so we set the benchmark, determine the cost to the client to achieve the desired result, and then apply the Action. At the end of the campaign, whether the result exceeds or falls below expectations, we have hard evidence of why and can learn from that. Counter-intuitively, when it comes to Quantified Creativity, you actually need things not to work, so that you can learn and make them work in the future – it’s ‘failing forward. 

Because the campaign is constantly evolving on the back of what the data tells us, it’s also essential to review the benchmarks with clients every three to six months. The insights may make the campaign cheaper for the client as we make adjustments – it makes it harder for us, but that’s also how we get better. 

There are a number of other ways to measure success in a brand campaign, as opposed to a performance campaign  – but the most basic and immediately-available data comes from a social listening perception report. If the aim was to create a love for a particular product, we measure the conversation sentiment before, understand the challenge and decide what we want to attempt to change – like the volume of conversation or the positive sentiment around the brand or product. At the end of the campaign, we look at where we are – if the sentiment has improved, we’ve met the aim of building more love for the brand. In addition to this, there are a number of Mixed Media, Brand Lift, and Brand Health studies that show massive value dependent on budgets available. 

Quantified Creativity is not a unique practice – if you’re in digital marketing, it’s the way you should be approaching everything. What we do differently is that it underpins every aspect of how we work. It doesn’t take a brave client to roll out a campaign where every question and concern they have is answered by pre-existing and real-time data – but it does take a patient one. A month or two is not enough time to see results with Quantified Creativity – we need time to generate more data and analyze it so we can test, trial, optimize and use the data to develop insights and actions that positively affect the future of the campaign. The longer we gather and analyze data ie. the longer the campaign runs – the better the results will be, because the pool of data is growing. 

Realistically, if you’re open to running a campaign for 6 months because you’ll be able to fine-tune it at every stage because of the growing data pool, imagine the quality of insights and results if you run it for a few years. With that depth of data, we can tell a client that if they spend X on doing Y, their turnover will be Z. Accuracy is determined by the insights derived from more data (the more data the better) – and Quantified Creativity delivers accuracy like no other method.

Photo credit: Markus Spiske (