Combining art and science, creating the best marketing outcomes

I’m more than willing to admit that I am a pretty massive nerd. I have a pretty big side interest in all things astrophysics and quantum mechanics (just the theory, the mathematics is a little over my head!). When I think of concepts from these areas, it feeds my desire to understand the way that things work. When I was in Finland for six months in my earlier twenties, I spent much of my time reading the Scientific American and watching YouTube videos of Michio Kaku. The great thing about science is that it always forces you to question what you think, with new data, technologies and applications forcing you to rethink what you do and how you do it, always changing how you see the workings of the world.

Art is also something that I have a great appreciation for. I’m particularly impressed by the social commentaries that came from the pop art of the 70’s and 80’s and the way that film based art (e.g. the styles of Kubrick or the dialogue and camera work of Tarantino) and, of course, music, provoke instant mental reactions and associations which are unique, yet personally relevant, to each individual. Art allows you to see how other people view the world on an emotional level, to understand it through their eyes and their thoughts and forces you too see it from other emotional perspectives. If science is about how the world works and looks, art is a glimpse into its soul, and our own. It’s for these reasons in particular, and the possibilities created in bringing the two together, which make me passionate and excited about the field of marketing…

The Theory of Everything

This (Australian) summer, has been a good time to see a science movie that everyone can enjoy! Interstellar blew my mind with its visual representation of a black hole and musings on space-time (whilst pushing the McConnaisance right along “Alright alright alright”) and the Theory of Everything inspired with the successes and challenges of our greatest mind, Stephen Hawking. But the Theory of Everything, which I saw with my lovely lady flame, inspired the most discussion in the car afterwards. As I may have eluded to before, I like to understand how things work, from the very big to the very small. I like to know what it is that drives natural processes and, as a marketer, what drives innovation and what shapes the field of marketing, from the systems approach and big data to applications of mobile technology and social platforms. The opposite of that is my lady flame (I guess that’s the new vernacular?) who likes to understand the people side of it. What motivates personal decisions, what resonates and why, and what is it that inspires change at an emotional level. As marketing people, we both have that same desire. To influence people in a positive way, to reach that holy grail beyond the formula of brand, message and consumer. But having been prompted to discussion by the Theory of Everything, we realised that, even though we are two types of marketers, one based in cause, the other in effect, we realised how significant the connection of art and science were to marketing. And in fact, at its best, Marketing = Science + Art.

In the Beginning…

As it used to be, brands spoke and people either followed or they didn’t. Even though it’s the most clichéd example and has been overused to death, I’m still going to dust this one off:

“You can have any colour you want. As long as it’s black” – Henry Ford

Honestly, I really hate that quote, but in the context of the time with the advent of true mass production, it was the most effective message. It didn’t make you feel anything and was made on the basic principle that people wanted a car. These days, the auto-market, like all other markets, has fragmented into hundreds of brands, hundreds of products. Globalisation and the internet have opened nearly boundless markets and shrunk the world around us, creating near limitless choice and even greater need to stand out.

The major difference between today and the days of Ford’s sassy quote is that the ownership of information and content has shifted from the companies to the consumer. The internet itself has fragmented through social media and search, each channel including its own influencers and thought leaders. Consumers now have access to information about an organisation through a single Google search (something not possible as recent as 15 years ago) and if organisations don’t have control of their information, their voice can be drowned out by the negative press in a viral maelstrom, particularly on social media. #QantasLuxury springs to mind (Thanks to the internet, these events live on forever, so here’s some highlights from 2014:

Given the ubiquity of connectedness for the everyday person, and the desire to share and be involved in the discussion, this also means that we are sharing more and more information, which can be used by companies to better identify and connect with their consumers. This is the scientific aspect of Marketing. It can show us the workings and direction of the market through information as seemingly useless as the time that people say “good morning” on Twitter. I’m a big fan of Jeremy Thorp (NY Times & Office for Creative Research) and his ability to visualise data in useful ways, from seemingly meaningless sources. Big data is much like our ‘brief history of time’, but within that, it’s the small pieces of data which can provide the greatest impact. Many drops can create a flood, but it’s what we can do with this information and the newer applications of it is what excites me most.

Artistic Function

There’s a lot of speak about how heuristics and the web-of-things will be able to automate, and possibly remove, the need for the marketer, outbound and inbound marketing shifting to a constant cycle of influence, CMOs mixing it with CIOs (Or as Bill Murray in Ghost Busters puts it “Dogs and cats living together!”), but the one thing that will still require the human touch is crafting the creative around a message, gleaned from the mass of data. As I mentioned, I was able to nerd out with the Interstellar movie, specifically the fact that they used nearly a petabyte of scientific data to create what is said to be the most accurate visual representations of a black hole ever. It was astonishing to me, seemingly having an unhealthy interest in astrophysics, to be able to see the visual and artistic manifestation of something that I can never dream of experiencing in reality, and that moment in film will stick with me (much like the opening scene of Star Wars ep. IV!) for many years

In my opinion, the artistic expression that is produced through marketing is significantly overlooked. Though many might care more about the results it produces, there are times when marketing becomes far more than a message or an image. As I’ve said, science and data explain how something might work, but art is the expression of how the soul works. This is manifest in audio and/or visual expression, even through touch, taste and smell, for those artists (or marketers) brave enough. While data might be able to show us what works, the context in which a related message is delivered requires the input of artistic, creative people. If you have a message, you want it to reach the people you wish to engage with, but it must be framed in a context which will have an impact, causing them to stop and consider their perspective of the world and how your offering can change that.

That is to say, the use of music and imagery is par for the course for those considering the packaging of their particular message, but again, it needs to be supported by accurate and pertinent data to construct it. Conversely, an advertisement can be pushed to anyone if the data supports a particular trend or opportunity, but truly impactful advertisements or campaigns combine artistic expression in support of that so it might speak, not only to our interests or to our desire for entertainment, but to our souls and perceptions. This is amongst the marketing holy grail, reaching the connection which supersedes brand and consumer and becomes more than a conversation, but a mutual understanding of who we are.

The Message in the Art

I came across this particular campaign a few years ago and used it as part of a presentation in my Master’s two years ago. While not being particularly scientific (it still addresses my point, not to worry!) it took issues facing the whole of Mumbai and packaged it into a visceral and emotionally charged TVC, shouting to the audience that the social issues and calls for progressiveness, within the city itself, were heard, that someone was listening and that voice needed ears (or eyes in this case) to hear (read: see) it. The voice in question, is that of the Mumbai Mirror newspaper. To me, this is one of the greatest examples of where the understanding of the big picture, combined with a clear artistic direction in mind, results in a message which provokes, and resonates with, the viewer at the most emotional and sub-conscious levels.

As someone who is way outside of Mumbai (by about 5,000 miles!) the humanity of this message and sense of discomfort it brought up, stemming from issues endemic to a sprawling city of twelve million, caused a deep sense of urgency and desire for perspective. It made me want to understand those issues and placed me as a member of the crowd, witnessing these people tell their story and forcing me to question what it was I truly knew, making me feel particularly human in the process.

The Future Theory

Naturally, as a marketer, this excites me. The shifts we face, given the vast volumes of data now presented to us and the new technologies and markets (Virgin Galactic anyone!?) available to us, are far beyond where they ever have been in the history of business. The fact that the consumer is more a part of creating the message than ever is equally terrifying as it is fascinating. But to me, there is an unprecedented ability for marketers to embed themselves within these new opportunities and to explore truly great ways to connect to their audiences. Even to involve them in the process of developing that message (not in the way that they used people to help write Snakes on a Plane though… ). 

The future of marketing is full of ever greater potential, thanks to scientific advancement and artistic expression, but the more successful of us will be able to unify these and create truly amazing campaigns, potentially worthy of those modern arts and artists. We should all be so lucky to be that person who might be the first to perfect that approach and create those pieces which will stick with people, much how “I am Mumbai” has stuck with me and will for many years.


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