In an age where datasets through warehouses have become commoditised, what can be a competitive differentiator?

For Ari Weiss, CCO, North America, DDB, the difference is all in the brain. Specifically, the Cortex. That’s the name for the collaborative unit inside DDB’s We Are Unlimited, the agency dedicated to serving McDonald’s.

Cortex, which launched two years ago, has been described as “a data-informed view of customers by gathering insights in real-time from experts across digital, social, retail, behavior”.

In this video interview with Beet.TV, Weiss, from Omnicom’s DDB, says the unit has its origins a couple of decades ago.

“When I first started, we had what we called cultural anthropologists going out into the marketplace,” he says. “They would spend anywhere from three months to a year in a specific market, researching a specific business and how the world reacted to that business. Then they would come back and present really, really compelling information and you’d be able to create fantastic campaigns.”

Similarly, Weiss calls the Cortex “our data hub for pulling all of the social listening and various consumer inputs”, interpreted by “wizards” who are now crucial to sifting, analyzing and deriving meaning from the massive amounts of data available.

How does it work? By means of example, Weiss explains how, last year, the agency tapped the resource to advise McDonald’s to market its sodas on quality rather than on price.

“We went into social listening mode,” he explains. “We pulled out this insight that there was kind of a hidden conversation on the internet about the urban legend of how much better the Coke at McDonald’s tasted versus their competitors. We said, ‘Okay, well this is a different type of value proposition’.

“When we shared these findings with McDonald’s they were like, ‘Absolutely, we have to go for this.’ Then they had the bravery and the insight and the fortitude to do a completely unbranded campaign.”

Weiss says the campaign further spurred consumer activity toward higher Google page rankings for blog posts containing theories about the reasons for the taste difference.

“That’s a campaign we could have never landed on without those insights,” he adds. “Those insights had to be interpreted properly and they were. That converted me to believe data can very much be our friend.”

This video is part of The Road to Cannes, a preview of topics to be addressed at Cannes Lions. The series is presented by the FreeWheel Council for Premium Video. For more videos from the series, please visit this page.  FreeWheel is a Comcast company.