Art and science: make love not war

The debate about art versus science in advertising is antiquated says the president, global clients, at VivaKi.

Marco Bertozzi: science and art must work together in advertising
Marco Bertozzi: science and art must work together in advertising

Speaking at the Debating Group’s event this week at the Houses of Parliament in London, I took the opposing view to the notion that science is squeezing out the art in advertising

Whilst the proposers gave eloquent speeches about the diminishing value of art across the wider social sphere, the proposition title is born from fear and latency. The world we now inhabit has accelerated and we need to keep up and re-evaluate all our terminology and approaches.

As the famous, and my favourite, quote from Henry T Ford goes: "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse". 

We are constrained by outdated definitions of art and creativity. We have set our own restrictions on what it means to be creative starting with advertising being ads. 

Dieter Rams, one of the most famous designers of our time and the main influence for Jonathan Ives of Apple, said: "Great design is not remarkable, it should be unremarkable".  By that he is saying that great design and by definition user experience can be subtle and ‘just work.’

Technology can help advertising ‘just work’ and by association advertising can be an experience. Right now we have too much focus on the BIG ad and the fact that creativity can only exist on a BIG canvas.  Let’s change the debate to focus on how the two can work together to be stronger, but let me explain why I feel that is necessary.


We have to keep pace with consumers and consumers have materially shifted in their habits. We can no longer even rely on the couch potato as he sits in front of the TV, simultaneously on his phone and laptop (a survey by the IAB showed that 78 per cent of US adults looked at a second screen during ad breaks). 

Media fragmentation has spread audiences far and wide. Social media is the second largest time suck of all media engagement and the average teenager when surfing the web multitasks with two other activities.  Even in old money terms where once there were a few TV channels, now there are hundreds.

One of the oldest sayings in advertising is suddenly becoming relevant again which is that ‘the medium is the message’. Although coined in the 1960s, the more experiential and tech driven world means that now the app may wield as much influence as the ad. However where and when we need to show ads, we can no longer use a traditional approach and we can only really achieve engagement through introducing technology to help us find, understand and target.

Attention deficit

With this fragmentation comes attention deficit issues. The average attention span in 2008 was 12 seconds, down to 8 seconds in 2015 (anyone say goldfish?).

M. King Hubbert, the geoscientist, coined the term ‘peak oil’, which is the point in time when the maximum rate of extraction of petroleum is reached, after which it is expected to enter terminal decline with dramatic effects on humanity.  A blogger, Matt Webb, extrapolated this theory and coined the term ‘peak attention’ based on the fact that advertising requires the mining of attention.  His point being we need to adapt our advertising to cope with declining attention spans and the simple truth is that we need creativity combined with tech to do that.

Take YouTube where 96 per cent of users skip the ads when given the choice. What do most advertisers do? They keep showing the same TV ad that is designed to build up over time. You have five seconds!  We know what they searched for, what they have seen before, what device they are on and yet we show the same ad.

Technology and creativity

Because of these challenges, art and science need to combine to be a more formidable force. There needs to be a strong message executed through the latest use of data and tech.

Take the example of Coca-Cola who increased purchase intent by 17 per cent with their #Shareacoke campaign with Channel 4. Using viewers’ All 4 sign-in names combined in real time with the Coke ad meant that every viewer saw a personalised ad. Same creative idea and message but personalised to achieve greater cut-through. 

BA also used the best of both art and science when it used a giant digital billboard which showed other brands’ advertising until a BA flight went past.  The flight triggered in real-time an ad which featured a small boy standing up and pointing to the plane while the ad displayed the flight number and location of that particular aircraft. It won a Cannes Lion which described the ad as having an innate charm as it portrayed a simple truth: that planes look magic to children. However, its execution depended on complex technological infrastructure.

Old media, modernised PLUS data and technology. If we agree that relevance is key and tech and data can achieve this through targeting then the creativity of the ad is crucial and dynamic creative allows us to do something that no human could do, thus making a better experience for the consumer. The story is still there. The art is still there. Technology enabled it.

Business first

Finally as an industry we have to grow up and get smarter. We are a commercial business and we must start to realise that our job is to make money for advertisers, we must deliver business growth – we are not selling art. Too many advertising businesses focus on the customer and understanding the customer but they forget they need to demonstrate growth. 

A report by Professor Peter Verhoef and Peter Leeflang, titled "Understanding the Marketing Department’s Influence Within the Firm", found that the greatest influence by marketing at the board table must be to demonstrate a positive link between marketing and business growth. 

A report by the Fournaise Marketing group showed that 80 per cent of chief executives think marketers are too disconnected from the financial realities of the business. This is where science needs to step in – driving insights and ROI where it has never existed before. Instead of relying on tired old research and surveys we have Amazon data and in-store data.

Where we have incredible change, fragmentation and attention issues, it is no longer possible to rely on the big TV ad. We can no longer expect the consumers to sit back and listen.

We still do and will always need the big idea, but it needs to be combined with planning, targeting and execution that uses technology that minimise wastage, improves the user experience and simply making it work, so that they truly engage. This is science enhancing and enabling art – not squeezing it out. 

Marco Bertozzi is the president, global clients, at VivaKi

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