The Creative Steering Wheel

A post appearing on Jason Falls’ blog, Social Media Explorer, curiously entitled The Case of Creative Myopia suggests most advertising campaigns—and the multidisciplinary teams that come together to create and execute these programs—tend to focus disproportionately on the art or visual impressions people will experience rather than the science behind the messaging.

There’s a science to advertising you say? Apparently so.

The advertising science or rational side, as Jason Falls puts it, lies in the measurement, testing and analysis; the information used for example to gauge if the audience is responding in the intended fashion and the communication goals are being met.

Advertising campaigns driven by the creative side on the other hand can sometimes live under a shroud of emotion and nebulous subjectivity. Granted. Creative work is routinely motivated by a deep passion to explore unconventional subject matter. Yes. Sometimes a creative approach may be squarely at odds with ‘the data’ or a more linear approach based upon empirical evidence. Absolutely.
This is the role of creative; to provoke, to challenge existing ideas, to partially abandon critical judgement that can have such a paralyzing effect on the creative process.
This may explain why left-brain oriented thinking individuals, on occasion, seem legitimately threatened by what they would belittlingly describe as irrational artistic tendencies. Those bloody creatives —how dare they flip everything upside down! Our stats say it should be horizontal!
Unfortunately people like Jason Falls feel compelled to relegate the function of creative to a secondary visual façade, a mere titillation of sorts that can’t be quantified, let alone justified with absurd statements like this:

“[Creative myopia] manifests itself with agencies or campaigns run by “artists.” (Pronounced “art-teests.”) The über-creative who border on art snobs often lose themselves in the majesty of the work and forget that the rest of the world isn’t Robert Hughes. For most people (me included), art is a delightful distraction from the mundane. We can appreciate a beautiful picture or painting, get lost in a wonderful song or even appreciate a good theatrical production. But we’re not artists. And we don’t think like them.”

While I’ll agree with the argument there needs to be a balance between the expressive creative attributes of an advertising campaign (e.g. the big idea, the concept/look and feel) with solid mechanics and execution strategies, the two are equally important. Both disciplines work hand-in-hand shouldn’t necessarily be regarded as mutually independent entities. There also needs to be a distinction made (in Falls’ argument) in equating creative with art in the context of marketing communications. The two are not one and the same. Art is driven by personal expression and does not need to respond to specific design and business objectives whereas advertising creative does.

It’s Not All Fluff
In fact great advertising creative is largely the result of thorough market analysis and measurement data collected on a ongoing basis. This data informs the creative development process throughout successive iterations of a campaign and can be used to fine-tune creative content (e.g. look, feel, tone) based on relevant statistical trends. This process of data collection, measurement and creative fine-tuning (Jason Falls likens this process to a rinse and repeat scenario which I too believe yields superior results) forms a clearer picture of the marketing challenges. As a result, advertising messages can be proactively adapted with greater likelihood the creative content will resonate with target audiences.

Enter The Creative Steering Wheel
(Disclaimer: I am an advertising art director and clearly bias towards the power of design and creativity in business)
Creativity plays a significant role in the marketing communications mix because it is generally seen as the most effective way to differentiate a product, brand, or message. All things being equal on the metrics and reporting front, the end creative is the ultimate way to distinguish one Ad campaign, product, brand or message from a competitor’s offering.
The analogy I would use to best describe the relationship between creative and the measurement side of the equation would be an automobile dashboard. The creative is the steering wheel, the primary enabler of a campaign’s overall direction. The measurement side is the instrument cluster and the various gauges along the dashboard providing the crucial feedback needed to monitor our progress as we embark on our advertising journey.

Finally, let’s say people are the gas, the fuel, what ever you want to call it—the juice that lubricates the advertising engine and makes everything run smoothly.

Now, if we could just do something about this damn traffic problem.

Photo credit: the open road by Grewy

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