The creative cold war
Tagged in: Blog
To win hearts and minds, we must build bridges, not fortresses
If you’ve been watching the Republican party lately, specifically during and since their national congress, you’d notice something strange was happening; they’ve found their feelings. And, no, not in a good way. The Republicans have discovered what advertisers did decades ago; dress your bullshit as feelings, and people will not/ cannot question the accuracy, relevancy or applicability of your claims. Checking the facts, it seems, is becoming irrelevant, when hearts are Trumping minds. But this eventually it got me thinking: where don’t feelings, or, more accurately, intuition, belong in a process like advertising? Especially today, as the industry begins to feel uncertain about its future, with the development of AI looming, not to mention clients demanding rational, data-measurable ROIs. What are the instances in which intuition and/or reason are best deployed? Upon ruminating I kept returning to the obvious several times: intuition and reason are opposites – perfect opposites, in fact.
“The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.”
– Niels Bohr
Opposites have always been a big deal for philosophers. At first, as with the ancient Greeks, they were thought to be at war with one another; cold versus hot; or, wet versus dry. Less ancient Greeks like Hericlitus preferred to see them as a continuum of change – that is to say, they exist at the same time. This can be better understood by his famous aphorism, “The road up and the road down are the same thing”. But does this mean that, as opposites, reason and intuition are equally valid? Sure it does.
In advertising, a strategy is the rational skeleton that creatives dress with their intuition; and one without the other cannot work. Strategy is the reason behind the execution; it’s why a thing is done, and the creative execution is how it is completed, in this case through feeling and intuition. We are first and foremost emotional beings – emotions motivate us into action, while reason tells us which emotions to appeal to; and we can never truly escape either. Take the work of Jackson Pollock as an example. It seems to be the least likely to be informed by a reasonable objective; and yet, on a second level, there is buried the objective, to appear as though there is no objective. Art for art’s sake is what Oscar Wilde, and others before him, called Aesthetics. Wilde, and others forwarding the movement argued, “art was not meant to instruct and should not concern itself with social, moral, or political guidance.” This is why advertising can never be purely aesthetic –not just because it is impossible, but because it is against its very nature; in advertising there is always a job to be done. I call on Wilde and not Kant or Goethe, because Wilde wrote an essay on the topic called ‘The Truth of Masks” in which he concludes, much like Bohr, that ”a truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true.” It can only be through reason that they both arrived at this exact thought, albeit through entirely different means of expression.
Put simply, we are all living along a constantly changing continuum; every decision we make lands us somewhere between two opposites. In our professional lives then, as creatives and/ or as strategists, or clients even, if we consistently make biased choices, it will begin to reveal itself in the quality of our work.
“Life is the sum of all your choices”
– Albert Camus
If creatives react the way I think they are going to in the coming years, or as they are already are, they’re going to find themselves knee deep in a dark age. This is because I fear creatives are building fortresses, rather than bridges between reason and intuition. In an age where reason is finally finding it’s feet with the aid of big data and brute computational force, it’s not time to oppose it, but to synthesise with it. The research and predictive modelling that goes into an evidence-based strategy can be cold, is cold; and, so, it takes great skill to interpret, and further, to execute this data for an audience in an appealing way. To feel the data, or as the leading economists of the day are calling it, to employ data storytelling (sound familiar?).
The rigidity of dogmatism will eventually fracture, it always does, because data does indeed trump opinion – whether you like it or not. Ideas are tested in the world, not in your heart; always test an idea/ feeling by letting it get a taste of the outside world. If it survives, then scale it. The number of clients saying they don’t want to know how much brand awareness was raised by a campaign is increasing by the day, because it can’t be measured – not in the real sense of the word anyway. Clients want real ROIs. Let this scare you; because fear is the greatest of all the emotional motivators. Get out of your fortress of feelings and embrace reason; become flexible; question and test your assumptions. Creativity, after all, is for the brave; and courage is not the absence of fear, but the facing of it.