Data Won’t Grow Your Brand

The biggest myth in media planning for brand growth today? That big data can grow your brand. 

Look…it absolutely helps, and it is essential for most brands. But just as a car with an engine but no body or wheels cannot drive anywhere, a media plan with extensive data and the wrong channels or creative will sputter aimlessly in no particular direction. 

As I am fond of saying, data is the vessel of creativity.  

What this means is, in an era of relentless hype about big data (some of it deserved), there is still an art that means just as much to your ultimate success. The best targeting and consumer data in the world can only go as far as the creative it services.

And this is where data falls short - it should influence the creative, but it will rarely surprise a consumer or unlock emotion. Retargeting banner ads that ‘work’ because they remind you about a purchase you forgot to complete are about as far as data can take you before creativity becomes necessary. 

Take two examples from my own career:


Bonobos, the first digitally native vertical brand, had a :30 TV shoot in 2018 highlighting the fit of their clothing against 172 people. During the shoot, something interesting happened: Bonobos’ creative team, Observatory, interviewed the men in the spot as they exited the stage.

Each of them was asked the same question:

“How do you feel about the current definition of masculinity?” 

Raw, emotional answers showed that the definition of masculine was too aggressive, stereotypical and potentially toxic - the men who do not fit those characteristics were unrepresented. A :90 video cutting together their reactions and suggestions was delivered to the brand and media teams. Despite Bonobos owning millions of data points about the men and women who shop their site, our media team’s millions more data points around what messaging resonated with them and their personas and personal characteristics, and countless more data points for targeting, it was only when this video arrived that we unlocked Bonobos’ single biggest sales, visits and awareness non-holiday week in its history. 

By giving the Bonobos team something to deeply believe in, the data of who to share our message with become a vessel to extraordinary results - a far cry from data that limits us to banner ads reminding them to finish purchasing the items in their cart. 


The second example is SUJA, the organic juice brand from California. Again, millions of data points from sales, media and consumer research bombarded the brand to guide our choices of where, when and to whom our advertising would run. 

We analyzed sales data and determined the brand’s most profitable markets were those in California. California is also home to the largest contingent of social media influencers in the U.S., and consumer data on organic juice consumers showed that they are significantly more likely to follow the recommendation of one of these influencers. In fact, our consumer targets had over 80%+ daily penetration on Instagram. 

So did this mean an Instagram campaign targeted to California?

It could have, but we had a more creative idea:

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Melrose Boulevard in Los Angeles is an Instagrammer’s paradise with brightly colored walls, murals and cafés attracting a thriving photography scene. The pink Paul Smith wall and Angel Wings are now tourist attractions. So we took over one of Melrose’s busiest intersections + outdoor media walls and created an Instagram-worthy outdoor execution seen over nine million times: The Living Social Wall.

Proclaiming, “People in LA love kale. And taking photos in front of wings. You’re welcome.” SUJA then created Kale Wings for photos.

Every weekend, people lined up to take photos in front of the wall. Businesses noticed more traffic and asked to keep the wall up longer than four weeks.

Then we put up the world's first Plantable Wildpostings. We attached thousands of seed packets to traditional Wildposting installations. These were seen over thirty million times with celery, carrots and spinach seeds planted across California.  


The results were SUJA’s most concentrated organic social media coverage ever, sales rose double digits in our two California markets and the brand’s work was seen over 30 million times. All because data was the vessel of creativity. It informed our choices, who we spoke to and how we reached them. And then it let great creative do the talking. 

Don’t forget…data is the vessel of creativity in your media plan.