One of the more compelling presentations at last week’s Beet Retreat in the City was given by Nancy Reyes of TBWA\Chiat\Day New York. To show how data can not only inform creative but also actually constitute it, Reyes walked the audience through two campaigns from the Netherlands that sought to comfort lonely people and reduce the incidence of domestic violence.

In this interview with Beet.TV contributor and Furious Corp. CEO Ashley J. Swartz during a break at the Retreat, Reyes acknowledges that there’s been “a pretty sturdy debate” over the role of data when it comes to creating advertising campaigns.

“Specifically, does data prevent creativity from happening because it’s all about measurement or it’s all about numbers? And also, does data take humanity out of the creativity, which is one of the things we always in the industry pride ourselves on,” says Reyes, who is managing director of the advertising agency.

The bottom line for Reyes—who began her career at Ogilvy & Mather and D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles—is that if data are used to inform campaigns from the start as opposed to strictly measuring campaign results, the utility of data is unquestioned.

“We really feel like there are ways for data to inspire the work to be better and to be that much more poignant,” for example “data unlocking creative that would never have been possible without that data.”

To demonstrate how data can inform campaigns, Reyes explained her agency’s work for the postal service in the Netherlands. By examining the type and volume of mail to certain residences, the agency was able to locate people who were most likely to be lonely and encourage the general public to reach out.

“And the point is that they were able to ship some letters to those lonely people to make them feel great over the holiday season,” says Reyes. “But we wouldn’t have known who those people were and really if they were truly lonely people who lived alone if it wasn’t for the fact of data helping us through that example.”

The second campaign involved data not only providing insight and inspiration but becoming the creative itself.

“That’s one of the things that we struggle with a lot in our business,” Reyes says. “An idea can be really beautiful and simple, and then lots of people jump on top of it and mess it up. But sometimes data itself is the story.”

Helsinki has the highest per capita incidence of domestic violence globally. Using 911 data, “We know exactly where those people live,” so over a 48-hour period the agency studied the concentration of calls.

“So really, all we needed to do was put posters and television ads and radio ads in those specific areas, because one of the things that we found out was that when people know other people who are going through a similar experience they are more likely to seek help,” Reyes explains.

She believes “data is at the center of everything we do from now on. But I think it’s more beneficial to think about it in the beginning of any kind of campaign or effort than it is where it’s been today, which is mainly at the end.”

This video was produced at the Beet Retreat in City & Town Hall on June 6, 2018 in New York City. The event and video series are presented by LiveRamp, TiVo, true[X] and 605. For more videos from the series, please visit this page.