Post by Kate Osborne, Associate Director
Apparently advertising is about the art and science of persuasion? Clearly influencing consumers sits at the heart of what we do, I don’t think anyone would dispute that, but art? Science? Isn’t that going a bit far? Perhaps, if you think of heart surgeons and abstract painters, but let me see if I can convince you otherwise…….
Science is systematic, empirical, a way to organise knowledge and to test hypothesis. In our world, simply put, this is data.
I think data is crucial in terms of knowing where to start, understanding the status quo, the basic facts. Let’s use our national sport for comparison. Without question every manager of every team in the Premier League will ensure they know who their opponents are, their current form, their style of play and form a base opinion on which to build on. Communication planners are no different; we need to know everything about our clients business and be able to answer basic questions at the drop of a hat.
So the playing field is understood but then a brief lands and all that information suddenly becomes a confusing web with every, once familiar, stat now seeming to offer the allure of an insight. As planners, how often do you think that the data you are examining could tell both sides of the story? That it isn’t clear cut?
As humans we have a natural desire to simplify information and when faced with all this data there is a danger that we leap to the wrong conclusions. Don’t worry though, even really clever scientists fall into this trap; take the people who thought that increases in outbreaks of polio during summer was as a result of people eating ice cream…durrr.
So how can we make better use of the infinite amounts of data we now access to when planning? The scientist Nobel Laureate Sir Paul Nurse describes the perfect scientific approach as one that tests hypothesis using data. But how do you know what to test?
Sir Paul answered this with a Francis Bacon quote “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts: but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties”. Is this curiosity where the art comes in? Some scholars say that sound empirical knowledge must come before any headlines but let’s keep it real, we work in media, we probably aren’t going to change the world (sorry…) so surely there can be some artistic licence right from the start?
Art is ‘judgement based’ and so by its very nature happens with imperfect information. In an industry where our clients value distinction there must be merit in freedom of expression which can later be validated, or not, through data? Going back to our football manager, he can only stand and watch as one player takes a creative risk and completely changes the game in a way nobody could have predicted.
So as Communication Planners we need to behave like artists and, in the words of Damien Hirst “make something out of what isnt there”. We need to have courage and be confident in what we already know and have a go, form some assumptions, set some hypothesis.
Now go back to the beloved data and OMG how much easier is it now you know what you are looking to prove. And look at that, you were right, you weren’t completely making things up. To finish with the football analogy, the manager and the crowd are gobsmacked at what they have just witnessed, can’t believe it happened. But later that afternoon the clever statisticians have gone back to their data and, lo and behold the boring Alan’s on Match of the Day are able to explain exactly why what happened happened, with graphs and everything! All seems so inevitable now.