Creative Focus: Art vs science

3 May 2016

When McCann Erickson Japan needed a new creative director it didn’t look at the stacks of portfolios nor at the talent already in-house.

The agency built its own. Meet AI-CD: AI robot, creative director of McCann Japan and your future boss. The new robotic overlord of the Japanese office was officially welcomed to the team at the start of April, along with, hopefully, actual human beings.

Disbelief aside – we’ve been assured it was not an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke – but it raises the question of what creativity in the modern age is all about. Marketers are increasingly focused on ROI and effectiveness as the ability to drive results with data grows; a view seemingly at odds with the traditional ‘gut instinct’ which has driven creativity in the past. So, what does this all mean?

Are robots well placed to drive the creative campaigns of tomorrow, given their ability to digest data? Or is creativity still a very human instinct?

We decided to ask the experts. Is advertising science or art?

Marianna harvey banner

About Marianne:

Marianne takes on the world from Brisbane and has won big awards and big accounts doing so. She also likes the band Art vs Science and encourages you to read on – it’ll be worth it.

Why do we always try to make things either black or white? In reality, the answer usually lies somewhere in the grey, somewhere in between.

I believe the best advertising is a mix of art and science. When the left brain gets together with the right brain, that’s when things get interesting. If it’s all art it can get a bit whimsical. And if it’s all science it can get a bit boring. But combine the two, and hey that’s cool, that’s pushing us into a new space.

I might be a bit of a nerd when it comes to data and tech, but if you can get the nerds talking to the creative types, get them in a room together and don’t let them out until they’ve cracked it, well that’s where the gold is.

The data feeds the creativity. We want our ideas to have impact, and using technology helps us do that. We want to take this capability, but put it to use in a creative, effective way.

That’s our challenge and that’s also what I’m most passionate about when working on briefs today. We need to be able to combine our gut intuition, based on our creative experience, with the data and technology available.

In conclusion, the science can inform the art. Science can make the art stronger and more interesting. But you need the art to break outside the standard, expected formula. The best work uses all the tools at its disposal, both the scientific brains and artistic brains. The trick is getting those brains to work together.

bram williams banner

About Bram:

Bram is a partner at creative agency Archibald/Williams. He has worked for Euro RSCG, McCann Erickson and Saatchi & Saatchi, where he was head of strategy. He also did a stint as a copywriter at ad agency Neon Pigeon.

Studying art at school, and later at university, we were taught that even in the most seemingly fluid and instinctive visual art, there is science.

My most memorable (and at the time, shocking) example of the principle of art versus science debate was in the work of Salvador Dali.

The artist developed a close relationship with science and cultivated a collection of books and essays on physics, quantum mechanics and the origins of life. This passion for knowledge shaped the way Dali developed his own warped style.

In an age where we must deal in facts, and even more so in an industry where data-driven marketing is at the heart of many successful campaigns, where does this leave us creatively?

My answer to that would be, exactly where it always did. Buzzwords like ‘digital disruption’ and the frighteningly accurate ‘data sourcing’ are constantly front of mind, but what we must remember is that as long as we can keep up with the advancements that are driving innovation in advertising, we can continue to create art that asks people to challenge what they think they know and feel. And actually, we can continue to create, full stop.

I would suggest we reappropriate the question to, “In the beginning, was advertising art or science?” because in 2016, it is now more clear than ever that one certainly can’t exist without the other.

megan gales banner

About Megan:

Megan has 14+ years experience in marketing and digital strategy, and has worked for The Campaign Palace and Saatchi & Saatchi in director of digital and planning roles.

I believe that great advertising is an art.

Technology and data are merely the modern tools we use to bring our art to life in a meaningful and effective way. Although technology and data are becoming more and more accessible to clients and agencies, alone they do not offer the opportunity for distinctive work that really moves people, or provide a competitive advantage.

Data and technology are essentially passive until they are interpreted and applied in a creative way.

It’s not enough to just hold a mirror up to people’s lives or engage with them using technology; advertising interprets data and defines a role for technology that sparks our imagination and inspires our emotions, because we buy with our hearts not our minds.

I do not in any way want to undermine the critical role that data and technology play in creating effective advertising. It will become ever more important as we become more accountable for our ideas, ensuring they are grounded in insight and delivered in the most contemporary and dynamic ways. But without the art of creativity, the beautiful randomness and chaos that comes with the creative process, we run the risk of painting by numbers.

When you look at the definition of science it is the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world. Whereas art is something created with imagination and skill, is beautiful or expresses important ideas or feelings.

If considered purely by definition alone, great advertising is still definitely more art than science.

RICHARD morgan banner

About Richard:

Richard has the rare experience of being ECD of both digital and mainstream agencies, having worked for the likes of AMV BBDO, DDB, Holler and Publicis Mojo, winning major awards along the way.

Can an idea be born from a series of binary 1s and 0s? No. Well, not yet anyway. Last year in Cannes I attended a lecture by Professor Brian Cox, the science guy from TV. He pointed out that when written down, the rules of cricket run to over 300 pages yet the rules that govern the universe can fit on a single sheet of A4 paper.

The point is that incredible complexity, including all life and the universe itself, can arise from a very simple set of rules. This means that the use of data is not there to dictate or stifle the creative process. In the right hands it can unlock potential, not restrict it. To a creative, taking learnings about how people react to things, their likes and dislikes, is incredibly useful.

This information, rearranged in new and novel ways, forms the building blocks for ideas. Like an artist working with a small number of colours, these learnings can be mixed together in different ways to create a canvas or novel idea of incredible beauty. For me, the mystery and allure of advertising has always been that it is both art and a science, not one or the other. Coming up with ideas is definitely an art. But when it comes to analysing how people react to ideas, science can play much more of a part.

Are our brains just enormously complex biological machines or is there a ghost in the machine? If it’s the former, it’s possible one day a computer could develop to a level of complex thought. Until then, I’m safely in a job.

This article first appeared in AdNews in-print. Click here to subscribe to the AdNews magazine or read the iPad edition here.

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