A call for creativity in a data-driven world

Industry pioneers share what that keeps them up at night.

A call for creativity in a data-driven world

It goes without saying that 2020 left the world of advertising in turmoil. Almost functioning as a collective existential crisis, creatives across the board started to ask themselves that One Big Question.

Why am I here?

Heading into the second edition of LIONS Live, the digital inspiration and education show produced by LIONS, we put our heads together with the teams to brainstorm how to capture the knowledge, inspiration, and insights shared, to live beyond that one week in autumn. After the first edition, we invited top-rated speakers to answer your questions left unanswered and added commentary by LIONS’ MD, Simon Cook, and WeTransfer's Chief Advertising Officer, Natascha Chamuleau.

Fast forward to September. What if we could flip the traditional set-up of a Q&A around? Following all of the insights shared by top creatives in their films at LIONS Live, we wanted to know, what big questions are these industry pioneers now asking themselves? What do they hope 2021 will unveil for the industry? To really bring these questions to life, we worked with the LIONS team to invite the speakers to pose their questions. The LIONS global design studio then visualised these questions as pieces of artwork for a wallpaper campaign on wetransfer.com.

When the questions started coming in, I began to see a trend. But it wasn't until I collated them to write this piece that the leading narrative became obvious. The main question on everyone's mind revolves around the balancing act between creativity and technology. The reliance of the industry on data to determine and define the work when actually, we yearn for a space where creativity is recognised and doesn't die a silent death at boardroom tables.

Let me take you through the speakers’ Questions for the Future and their rationale for posing that question.

Gabriela McCoy, Director of Portfolio Strategic Insights and Analytics, Bacardi

Designed by Yael Tur-Shalom at the Ascential Design Studio

"We all yearn for ‘Big Data” that predicts human behavior.  As data hoarders we quantify and categorize consumers, build algorithms, and assume more data means more insights.  However, creating in a world of Big Data results in mundane creative output at best, or worse, lifeless creative.

The truth is, humans are unpredictable, and their lives are cozier, messier, and quite imperfect. And, breathing in living human input into creative paves way for a brand that exhales real human output. This demands we release desire to understand humanity in totality in exchange for the more interesting bits of a person, which is far more provocative, unpredictable and oh, much more human."


Nancy Reyes, President, TBWA\Chiat\Day New York

Designed by Claire Zen at the Ascential Design Studio

"Firstly, I am so encouraged to see there is a greater level of consciousness around inclusive and accountable communications - certainly more than there has ever been. The social injustice in the US and the global pandemic are having a profound effect on our moral compass. But, a moral compass and greater consciousness must not be interpreted as safety. Safe ideas are ignored, forgotten and dismissed. We will not make change with safety. 

We must be braver then we have ever been. How do we do this?

In a time of crisis we learn more about who we are and who brands are, then we would have ever known. Look there, dig there and you will find seeds of how to be brave."


Heather Pieske, ECD, Vox Creative

Designed by Emil Rivera at the Ascential Design Studio

"We all yearn for a world of breakthrough ideas, disruptive thinking and newness. The opportunity to see something we’ve never seen and feel something we’ve never felt is always something we are after. But sameness is a constant threat. It lurks in our habits, our processes, our pitches, our teams, and our history. It lives in our ‘best practices’ and in our unfortunate proclivity to cling to what’s comfortable, easy and proven. But releasing work that truly pushes boundaries and challenges us requires reinvention. It demands that we create spaces for those who see creativity from new angles, those who kick the tires of what we’ve always done and who see rules as things to be broken rather than abided by."


Laurie Howell and Toby Treyer-Evans, Group Creative Directors, Droga5

Designed by Ramon Sanchez at the Ascential Design Studio

Morten Grubak, Executive Creative Director, and Vicky Chen, Head of Strategy, VIRTUE Copenhagen

"Once, desirability trickled from a narrow elite down to the masses, like nectar from the gods. Now, designers now have a direct tap into our deep desires through the digital data left by our constant scrolling. Your eyeballs betray your desires, and algorithms are lightning quick to whisper the next big sellers in the ears of designers.

You are, in effect, clicking the next season’s collection into being.

Some of the garments even exist as nothing but renders until you press a button. A globally scattered production chain will then bring them right to your doorstep with a minimum of human interference. To this hyper-effective system, designers are but cumbersome meat-and-bone middlemen. How long do you think it will tolerate them? And how sure are you that it hasn’t already happened?"

Designed by dubble artists Sabrina Tirvengadum, Madeleine Bianchi, Stephanie Jo, John-James Laidlow, and Sarah Vitberg


Nessim Higson, ECD, WeTransfer

"With great ideas and innovation comes responsibility. This is an oversight that many people and companies suffer from. What seems to be pure and good in intent and inception, can be subverted and shifted to being harmful. We need to look no further than what we are making at WeTransfer to recognize that. That’s what prompted us to become a B Corp and to take responsibility seriously."

Designed by Nessim Higson at WeTransfer Studio

Hugo Veiga and Diego Machado, Global Chief Creative Officers, AKQA

"We like the challenge - or the opportunity - to think about the limits of AI against the unlimited potential of human creativity within the context they’re living."

Designed by Stephanie Ellis at the Ascential Design Studio

Patrycja Podkościelny, Illustrator and Graphic Designer

"Push through or wait it out—how to deal with a creative burnout. This question is simple but crucial because every creative will find themselves in this situation sooner or later, no matter the skill or experience. The answer is unfortunately ambiguous since everyone is different. For me burnout is the result of overworking, so just taking a break from time to time helps. For others, pressure will be what motivates creation. That’s why the major thing is to know yourself and what suits you better."

Designed by Patrycja Podkościelny

Let’s wrap it up

I wonder if you came to the same conclusion as me. It seems like technology and data overtook us—overtook an industry that attracted creatives who wanted to make ideas come to life, tell stories, win over hearts and minds, and have the opportunity to change culture. Where once we saw that data might help us make better work, have we gone too far? Are we now as little marionettes, where the work is driven by data instead of human innovation: ideas?

I'm encouraged by the thread in the questions (and answers) above. We are the ones who can redress the balance. We are the ones who can push for a return to that ever-so-precious core of our being and let our imagination run more freely again.

For more information on LIONS Live or for further creative inspiration, head to lionscreativity.com