Shakespeare shows data and creativity aren’t Montagues and Capulets

Jason Dooris

Jason Dooris is the CEO and founder of growing Atomic 212, Australia's fastest growing media and marketing agency on the BRW 2014 list. Over the past 20 years, Jason has held a variety of senior local and global industry positions including CEO MediaCom UK, deputy CEO MediaCom Europe, GM Saatchi & Saatchi NZ, GM Ogilvy & Mather Australia, GM Dentsu Aegis Australia and consulting practice director, Deloitte Asia. His vertical experience covers most categories with a particular focus on retail, automotive and FMCG.

Perhaps the biggest indication yet that data and creativity have now become inexplicably bound was revealed in October, when the Oxford University Press announced plans to re-release Henry VI, Parts One, Two and Three with William Shakespeare credited as co-author.

Following centuries of speculation, Shakespeare’s contemporary, Christopher Marlowe, will appear on the title page as co-author of the three Henry plays, more than 400 years after it was first performed and published.

It had long been speculated that Marlowe had worked on the trilogy, but data has finally – and, the Oxford University Press say, definitively – proven it.

A team of 23 academics from five countries used databases of plays written by Shakespeare, Marlowe and a host of their Elizabethan contemporaries to search for distinct words and phrases to reach their conclusion.

"Shakespeare has entered the world of Big Data and there are certain questions that we are now able to answer more confidently that people have been asking for a very long time," Gary Taylor, one of the project's senior editors, told Reuters. “There are parts that are very clearly by Shakespeare and there are parts that are very clearly by Marlowe."

The mere suggestion that big data be applied to analyse Shakespeare’s work would have had many up in arms only a few short years ago. Indeed, the whole ‘rip out that page’ scene in Dead Poets Society comes about because the textbook they’re reading from makes a statistical analysis of a Shakespearean sonnet, leading Robin Williams’ character to declare: “We're not laying pipe, we're talking about poetry.”

But while appreciating any art is about far more than just assigning it a ‘mark’, this project once again shows creativity and data really do go hand-in-hand.

In many ways, it’s the ultimate collaboration, finding a means to bring two seemingly disparate fields together. Yet many of the best, most creative ad campaigns we’ve seen over the past few years have been the result of combining ‘left side’ brain thinkers with ‘right side’.

Take, for example, the US motel chain, Red Roof Inn. In 2014, in the midst of a historically harsh winter, Red Roof used data to target cancelled flights and turn stranded passengers into customers.

They followed this up with the ‘Converting Brake Lights into Rested Nights’ campaign, where they were able to target their paid search dollars toward people who had been stuck in traffic for hours and likely needed a break from the road.

It’s a marriage of letters and numbers that would make Richard Morecroft proud.

Happily, this mix of data and creativity is a reality that we as an industry are embracing.

Adobe’s 2015 Digital Roadblock Report, which surveyed more than 1000 marketers across Europe, found that 60 per cent agree capturing and applying data to inform and drive marketing activities is the new reality. In addition, 59 per cent agree data (metrics from digital ads, campaigns, website, and so on) are informative in evolving their company’s marketing creative.

So what’s this got to do with Shakespeare?

There is a long-held belief that Shakespeare and Marlowe were more than just contemporaries, they were in fact rivals. But far from robbing The Bard of his genius, by acknowledging Marlowe’s efforts on the three plays, Oxford University Press’ new publications highlight the importance of collaboration.

“It's possible they loved each other, it's possible they hated each other. We have no way of knowing," Taylor said of the two Elizabethan literary titans.

"Rivals can collaborate."

Whether they were friends or enemies, for Shakespeare and Marlowe to work together on three plays would have required their egos to have been set aside and for a hefty amount of compromise.

In the same sense, while we wouldn’t quite describe data and creativity as Montagues and Capulets, they have long been held as completely foreign to one another. It is this sense of estrangement that can make it difficult to bring the two together successfully.

The key is admitting you don’t have all the answers, and then finding the middle ground.

If a bunch of Shakespearean academics can do it, by bringing data analysis into their work, and Shakespeare himself did it, by collaborating with Marlowe, then surely it’s worth pursuing in your own work.

Tags: data-driven marketing, data anlaytics

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