2023 Rogue Report – Using data

Data for humans

In 2013 the late great Robin Williams starred in a sitcom where he played an eccentric advertising agency owner. In one episode, he goes head to head with their new “quant” (in this case a research analyst) to come up with a new campaign. It became a competition between creativity and data. 

Robin Williams’ characters loses. But to get his groove back he does something way out there to show how truly creative he can be. 

It represents two extreme cases (instinct vs data) but even in the short 10 years since the episode aired our understanding of how best to use data for creativity has jumped leaps and bounds. In the best cases the balance of instincts and data emerges as the sweet spot; working with data, and not against or in spite of it, and not simply letting data alone to speak for itself.


In this Rogue report we look at the ways working with data can help us achieve better outcomes (from entertaining to actually changing behaviours), in advertising and beyond

Data as Identity

In 2016 Spotify launched Wrapped. A year-end review in which it feeds back data to each listener in a fun way. From the songs you listened to most, to the number of different artists and songs you listened, each delivered with a fun and relevant comment. It has become something some people truly look forward to. Some have even been known to change up some of the songs they listen to as the end of the year neared to make up for days, weeks, or months, where only a few or even just one song was on their rotation. Spotify Wrapped is a way people look back on not only the year that was, but as a representation of who they were and what they experienced in the past 12 months.

What does this mean for your brand?

Brands often think of data as proprietary or for internal use only but there are many ways in which data can be used to inform people about their actions. Loyalty programs, which have tons of data use it to show members where they might have shopped, but there are ways to go beyond this. For example, assigning characters as Spotify (i.e. the adventurer listens to a lot of different music) does is a simple way to show how unique various actions people take are. When a brand notices someone is always buying new products at the grocery store, a shoutout can not only be fun but can provide the end-user with a sense of identify, whether they are different from others or share certain traits with them.

Data as entertainment

Like Spotify, Porn Hub does a yearly review. Though for Porn Hub it is a more global view and less at the individual level. Just a few weeks ago, it released the data for 2022. Whether the most popular searches, trending searches, or the most popular porn stars, Porn Hub has data fanatics covered. And in case you were wondering, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve see a decrease in visits – when family is over you people are probably more likely to stream holiday favourites and wood burning in fireplaces.

What does this mean for your brand?

Even with “sensitive” data, there is a way to aggregate it and share it back with users. 

It doesn’t have to be solely for entertainment purposes. Insurance companies can use the data they collect in creative ways too. Identifying intersections where the most claims are reported or even installing billboards to warn drivers of those intersections. In this case a helpful act can be entertaining with trivia (i.e. this intersection has the most accidents than any other in the Greater Toronto area) – who wouldn’t want to use that as an icebreaker at their next dinner party.

Data for behaviour modification

Opower, founded in the 2000’s, before being sold to Oracle about 10 years later, pioneered the use of data for behavioral change. It realized that just telling people how much power they used and how much it cost was not going to truly move the need when it came to power savings. But leaning into behavioural science, it put the power usage of its customers into context using social cues. In other words, it allowed customers to compare their power usage with that of their neighbors. This simple tweak helped people better understand when they were using perhaps too much power and where there was room for improvement. 

What does this mean for your brand?

When looking to impact behaviour, a combination of data and context can work best. Data on its own it not always helpful. But put into context, it can be powerful. What context can your brand provide customers so that they can evaluate where their actions stand in comparison to others or even their past actions.

After all if Usain Bolt ever only sprinted alone, we would not know that he was the fastest human ever 😉

Data for optimization

Using data to upsell or cross-sell can sometimes feel very impersonal. Some sites make recommendations that seem to come out of nowhere with the consumer wondering if the site is just randomly proposing products.

Sephora has turned recommendations into an art – from suggesting Sephora exclusives, allowing their beauty insiders to chose their rewards and including suggestions of with what else to use certain products.

This is the result of an artful mix of knowing the products and knowing the consumer – a key part of this is their beauty insider community where Sephora shoppers can get unbiased recommendations and share tips – and all this integrated into the retailers e-commerce site.

What does this mean for your brand?

The best optimization is relevancy. Offering the right product at the right time. Data is a major key in doing so, but so is a deeper understanding of the consumer beyond e-commerce. Sephora understands this by integrating its community within the site. Consider ways to get closer to clients – even little quizzes within your Ecommerce site or on social media can sometime uncover hidden insights that could be a small step towards bigger sales.

Datazard – Data hazards

Sharing data with users is not always positive, there can be situations where data can do more harm than good. For example, at first glance the famed Los Angeles billboard listing the year’s deaths from smoking seems like a great idea to deter smokers. But it can have the opposite effect. Smokers can see it as a social confirmation. That they aren’t the only ones with a smoking habit and therefore won’t be alone in death. Now not everyone will look at that billboard in that way but the danger of it still exists. Better would be a billboard showing the number of people who have quit smoking.

What does this mean for your brand?

The last thing a brand wants to do is normalize negative behavior. Or be like the automated speeding signs which basically read back what the driver already knows. Without actual implications, the majority of those speed signs are ignored or drivers become accustomed to seeing them. Brands can take into consideration what goals they truly want to achieve with the use of data, and what subsequent actions they hope their customers take as a result of being exposed to the data.

If has often been said that companies are data rich but insight poor. We become paralysed in the face of it because we want it to do so much, but don’t set out in analyzing with a clear goal of what we want it to help us with.

Setting a goal for the change or impact the brand wants to achieve in using data is the first step in being able to use data in creative and impactful ways. 

Like Robin Williams’ character in the Crazy Ones, we will never be smarter without data, but the smartest outcome will likely come from looking at it from various creative angles and having a clear idea of what questions we want the data to help us answer and what objectives we want to achieve with it.