When should art get into bed with science?

In the lead up to next week's MSIX event, Alex France, managing director at Vitamin X, explains how building insights from the marketing sciences into your strategies can make it harder for the C-suite to say "no".

At a time when creative agencies are finding their credibility, motivations and recommendations challenged by an expanding circle of inquisitors and detractors, the marketing sciences provide a new and valuable foundation of fact for what we do.alex-france-creative-director-vitamin-xSo why aren’t more agencies and creatives embracing this field?

I think part of the get-out-the-garlic-and-hurl-the-holy-water reaction to the idea is because of a misunderstanding of where and when art and science should get together. Get it right and the union has the potential to produce progeny better adapted for survival.

I’m a copywriter, a creative director and the leader of a creative boutique. One of our campaigns is also a finalist in this year’s MSIX awards. Given that, I hope I’m qualified to add a creative’s perspective to this debate.

I see the insights emerging from the experiment driven work of behavioural scientists and neuroscientists and the deep insights enabled by the smart analysis of big data not as substitutes, inhibitors or straight-jackets for creative thinking, but as mind-blowingly marvellous tools that can help us zero in on better starting points for campaign planning and creative exploration.

These tools are more varied, penetrating and predictive than any of those currently deployed in the pre-creative stage. The insights they generate provide a broader context for traditional product-driven market research, making sense of the messy, onion-layered wet-ware that underlies human behaviour.

If we start creative development in a place grounded in this deeper understanding of how the human mind operates, we increase our chances of doing the kind of work we all aspire to: creativity will still be the lever, but the fulcrum will be better located and the likelihood of disproportionate results increased.mobile phone graph analytics business data - thinkstovk

If your doctor wants to test your reflexes, she taps you just beneath the kneecap and watches for your leg to twitch. Hitting the middle of the knee cap, the shin or the tip of the big toe won’t produce the same result. Knowing where to tap means you can concentrate on creating a better hammer with the aim of getting a kick like a karate champ.

Smart agencies will start weaving these insights into everything they do. Done with flair, the science will be invisible to the casual eye and won’t interfere with the concept, the execution or the audience’s engagement or enjoyment. But it improves the odds of getting a result.

Who should take responsibility for getting their heads around this? It’s tough because the fertile fields of marketing science are broad and deep – in places, with bullshit. It’s a full time job just keeping track of developments, let along filtering them and figuring out how to use them.

But if strategists and planners can build these insights into their briefs, and creatives learn enough to use them intelligently, it should be possible for agencies to go into meetings with informed clients and provide more persuasive rationales for their work, and engage in reasoned evaluation on common ground of the possibilities.

This in turn means that marketers can sit with their C-suite colleagues and ground their plans and recommendations in science. Makes it much harder for subjective negativity to win the day.

In fact, this raises a much bigger point, one with implications for the advertising industry as a whole.

We all know that marketers are under intense scrutiny by the sides of the business that see marketing as a cost. In turn, the foundations of our industry, and the importance of our single point of difference – creative thinking – are being questioned.

The marketing sciences can help counteract this. Creative agencies that build these new insights into their work will increase the odds of their clients succeeding. As a result, they’ll both have a better chance of surviving. Maybe FOMO is the behavioural insight we need to get more colleagues on board.

Alex France is the managing director and creative partner at Vitamin X

To hear more about subjects like this, head to Mumbrella’s MSIX conference in Sydney on November 24.


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