Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Art vs. Science: Science Is Winning

This is what my Mediapost article from Wednesday was all about, so read on!

In our world there’s an ongoing debate over the concept of art vs. science in advertising. I’ve commented on it before, but it’s becoming fast apparent to me that science is winning — and I want to explain why this makes me a little nervous.

I feel the best advertising has always been heavy on art, with a balanced dose of science to ensure the right people are watching, but these days it’s all about the science and the art is taking a back seat.

In order to become a media planner these days, it feels like you need a Ph.D. I’m exaggerating slightly, but it used to be a simple matter of reach, frequency and your negotiation skills. Now it’s becoming a more complex, more engineering-centric marketplace!

Media planners and media buyers used to be the same person and were responsible for the ongoing management of the clients’ campaign. These days the business is becoming more fragmented, more specialized and more focused on targeting: ISP-level targeting, behavioral targeting, profile targeting, etc. There are numerous technologies that layer over one another and are intended to reduce waste in your media budgets. Media planners must learn about these technologies and prioritize how they may affect their customer’s campaigns; in many cases, these campaigns are being tracked through to a customer acquisition or some other direct response metric.

It feels like every new company that’s being funded is basing their business on these targeting needs and the ability to deliver a more targeted audience. I see these companies as fulfilling the goals of science. Where’s the art in all of this? Where’s the consideration of impact and the creativity of the messaging?

It all started with Google and the “textification” of the creative messages. As a result of Google AdWords and Google AdSense, I feel as though the art is getting lost and is getting squeezed out by the science. As much as 40% of all online dollars are spent against search, and search constrains the creativity and the impact of the messages offered up to the consumer.

What is happening to the old-school focus on creative and the development of messaging that has impact and can affect purchase consideration? What happened to identifying the needs of brand advertisers and affecting consumer views on products and services? What happened to paying a premium for highly targeted, highly sought-after content? The majority of the discussions these days are about the commoditization of media and the development of the marketplace model, but I see very few people talking about the art of online creative. I’ve sat through presentations at conferences and in boardrooms, but more often than not the ideas are gimmicky and are not deeply rooted in strategy. Strategy is the art, and the art is rapidly being pushed out of the business by the metrics.

Wenda Harris Millard’s recent comments comparing media buying (unfortunately) to trading pork-bellies is what originally got me thinking on this topic — because she’s right! The prices are being pushed downward due to the direct response marketplace and at some point we will see a “correction” where prices will bottom out, with some premium inventory becoming more valued and supply decreasing, with more creativity being applied to the business. In this type of a marketplace, creative should again become valued — I hope! The premium placements should command more creativity in messaging to the consumer, and the art should be brought back to the space.

Maybe it’s partially my fault (and those of the other agency people in the marketplace) for being so focused on the numbers for so many years or maybe it’s society’s need for immediate gratification, but I feel the push for immediate metrics is affecting our ability to blend art into advertising .and I’m hoping that this will change soon. The closest thing I’ve seen online to art in recent months was the Apple placement on the Vista page of CNET. The media person who bought that placement (where there were live-action ads touting users to “Give Up On Vista” on the actual Vista page of CNet) should be commended for his/her effective coup. This was art applied to media and creative at the same time. I know those ads ran in other locations, but this was the perfect marriage of the two.

Rarely have I seen anything so effective in recent years. IPod advertising and Mini advertising also are focused on art, as Altoids used to be and some other perky, younger brands, but when I find their ads online I find ads that are less artful than those in other major media.

I love advertising and I want to see the art come back. The emerging media platforms — online video, mobile, social media, gaming, widgets — offer an opportunity for art once again without losing the science, primarily because these are fragmented media as well and have not reached critical mass as of yet. For them to be considered effective you need a big idea. You need a strategic reason to try them out and strategy breeds creativity, which demonstrates art. So here’s to the art coming back into advertising, and the science becoming integrated once again!

No comments: