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Color by numbers – the power of data to fuel creative innovation

Nugroho Nurarifin

Executive Creative Director

Grey Group




It happens too often that digital innovation coming out of an ad agency ends up being labeled as a self-indulgence – the use of computer technology for technology’s sake.


Because innovation will always be at the heart of creativity – and as innovation done by tech-companies seems to steal all the limelight these days – it is very tempting for ad agencies to also churn out technological innovations. But it’s relatively rare for those innovations to achieve scale. Because, unlike Apple or Alphabet, our main business – and expertise – will always be about using creativity to solve communications problems,

not only about making mobile phone applications or producing consumer gadgets that require massive investments in infrastructure. Plus, not all clients – at least in Indonesia – are ready to go big with tech.


But it will never be right to downplay the importance of innovative thinking. So, how should we innovate?


As advertising creatives, we always proudly declare ourselves to be storytellers. And because the best stories have always been the most personal, it is time for us to focus our attention on something that only CRM specialists have used in the past: consumer data.


This is actually a natural next step for us in this age of information overload. Unless what we are saying is personally relevant and contextual to our audience, ain’t nobody got time for that. And this shift is even more important in a market like Indonesia – where according to eMarketer, in 2019, 92 million people will have smartphones in their hands. That’s not to mention our penchant for using smartphones almost exclusively for social media. Smartphones: the most personal medium ever.


In the past, advertising creatives were known as the agencies’ eccentrics. The art directors and the copywriters were the artists and the poets of the commercial world; the geniuses nobody understood – especially the account executives. The creatives were known for isolating themselves, brainstorming and doing all-nighters, before coming up with a series of brilliant layouts and some killer headlines.


But the world has become more complex. It is not only a matter of deciding what is the idea, what should the picture be and what will be the copy. The time has come for creatives to collaborate more with people beyond the creative department. Including – and this part might be really scary to a lot of creative – the clients.


That’s because clients have something we need to enable us to write that next big, famous campaign every creative have been waiting for. They have consumer data. They have been doing CRM activities for years, and if they have not yet consolidated this data into one neat system, we need to tell them – and in a lot of cases help them – to do it. With our expertise in storytelling, it is a big opportunity for any creative in the country to take one-on-one communication with a consumer to a whole new level. A mobile-first video telling stories that have been customized to every person on their daily commute? A special digital musical performance on the birthday of every mother aged 27 to 35 in Jakarta, Bandung, and Surabaya? The possibilities are endless.


And we could always collaborate with companies who do data mining as their core business; the likes of Google or Facebook. By maintaining close contact with them, we could get valuable inspiration into how best to use information to tell impactful stories, and how best to use their medium.


Digital has been around for two decades now, and while some awards shows will still announce the best TV commercials at the end of the show, as if that’s still the most prestigious medium, the clear and present opportunity lies on a much smaller screen: the screen of millions of smartphones of Indonesian consumers. And the way to break in is through shifting our focus of innovation. A shift from trying to steal the glitz and glamor of Silicon Valley, to developing our own charm, using information to make people cry, laugh, or think.