The Existential Crisis Of Art, Science And Dollars

Agency leaders are standing at the proverbial crossing. Only this is not the standard T-crossing where the road leads either left or right, nor is it a fork in the road where one path leads to unknowns up the mountain, and the other unknowns will be on the path down the valley.

This is the Ginza crossing of crossings. Spaghetti Junction. Roads are going every which way, and there is no telling which one is the right one.

Why are we here? Well, as the saying goes: Everything we have done to date brought us here. If we look over our shoulder, we can see the path that led us to this point.

There are the organizational decisions we made along the way. Agencies made every part of their business a profit center, and created profit centers within the profit centers. Where they used to be advisors and purveyors of creativity that had the ability to move a consumer to like and buy a brand, today agencies are sellers of hours, technology, content and even media space.



While agencies used to pride themselves on independent advice and a somewhat rebellious and anarchistic culture, they are now bound by financial commitments, savings targets and speed to market.

Agencies used to offer marketers a respite from their mundane and perhaps somewhat boring office life, a place where they would be exposed to people very different from themselves, their daily business or office culture. There were people who delivered brilliant insight and creative executions wrought from briefings that were as crappy back then as they are today.

Today agencies offer pretty much an extension of the marketing department, enriched with an army of invisible minions who do things with data, consumer journeys, DSPs and other stuff that seems important.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not glorifying the good old days. Or perhaps I am lamenting one aspect of it: I actually lament the fact that we seem to have molded agencies into one part client marketing department clone, another part tech company clone, with seemingly little love or time for the craft of creation.

I have often said that we live in the era of Homo Analyticus, and that without a Ph.D. in either data or computer sciences you don’t stand a chance, as your job will be taken over by an algorithm. There are tons of studies that correctly proclaim there is a wide gap between tech needs and tech skills in advertising and marketing.

All those studies show clearly that agencies (and marketers) are falling seriously short in recruiting, training and developing the types of people that could be or become Homo Analyticus. And those who have these skills are not so hot on a career in marketing or advertising.  

So perhaps it is time to add a second typology: Homo Creaticus. With all our talk of content and consumer engagement, we seem to place very little value on the actual creators of content. Data is the hero. Data wizards are heroes: Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Travis Kalanick, Brian Chesky, Frank Addante, Marc Benioff, the list goes on.

David Ogilvy was a copywriter, as was Leo Burnett. Dan Wieden wrote copy. Walt Disney created animation. Yes, we need people who can understand data and technology, but we also need people that are creative geniuses. It is time to bring back wisdom and magic, art and science, the left and right brain of advertising.

3 comments about "The Existential Crisis Of Art, Science And Dollars".
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  1. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360, October 17, 2016 at 11:30 a.m.

    I come to this post as one who has spent a decades long career in the tech and data realm. I doubt the industry will find that there are people who excel at both the creative and analytic/tech aspects of the business. So agencies and holding companies have to spend for both - this wiull require more people. Those people should be organized so that in serving the clients, the tech and data folks serve and advise the creatives, who should still lead. Good creative is essential to making this all work. What good is the data targeting and placement if the creative is boring, forgettable or just plain bad?

  2. Mark Scott from Sage Projections, October 18, 2016 at 12:17 p.m.

    This is a good summary of the state of advertising at this point in time. I just wonder , however, if this situation will be the same in the coming years.  Clients are just becoming aware of the serious short comings of digital and social media. Exagerated reach, 3 second impressions and the widespread fraud. Couple that with the growth of ad blocking and privacy concerns. It seems like much of the tracking foundation of the current  fascination with all things digital is shaky. When you objectively look at media usage by consumers, tradiational media has declined but it still has much better reach and impact. I suggest poeple read Byron Sharp's "How Brands Grow" He explains, and backs it up with data ,that to succeed brands need to get back to attracting occasional users and not just repeat users . That will require  a message that is interesting and even entertaining. In my mnd that is only done with great creative. At least that is my hope.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 18, 2016 at 1:36 p.m.

    Data is only a tool, not the be and end all. All ----or most---of the discussions about "data" refer mainly to media buying. Of course, "data" can be used to guide a marketer's strategizing and the way agency "creatives" come up with brand positionning strategies as well as commercial executions.But here, we must, once again, distinguish between branding and direct marketing campaigns.

    Much of the time, "data" refers to knowing all there is to know about every individual consumer and using it to send digital ad messages aimed specifically at each consumer---though how this is to be accomplished on a massive scale using "linear TV" is not really evident at this time. When it comes to the "creative" functions for branding advertisers, the need for person by person information about product purchase and/or mindsets---even if obtainable---becomes overkill. There are plenty of studies---using "little data"--- that tell  branding advertisers what they need to know to profile their best consumers as well as what's on their minds. For such advertisers that's quite sufficient. Guided by good judgement, they develop ad campaigns and air them on "linear TV" without knowing exactly who each consumer is and exactly how each consumer reacted to each ad exposure. If they capture enough ad awareness and motivate enough people to act this will show up in sales reports very quickly and, if needed, adjustments can be made. Of course, it may help to have a slew of "data scientists" on staff---if their cost can be justified and maybe this is important for advertisers who are very heavy users of digital media----but is it also true for TV-style branding advertisers? One wonders.

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