Head to head: art trumps numbers

  • Opinion
  • January 25, 2017
  • StopPress Team
Head to head: art trumps numbers

In this bout, our contenders bob and weave around the ever-present question of whether research or creativity is more important. Chemistry Interaction director Joseph Silk takes on Y&R planner Craig McLeod.        

Nay: Joseph Silk 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good bit of craft. Some finely kerned kerning, beautifully leaded leading, an exquisitely shot shot and a beautifully retouched… well everything really.

But seeing the numbers that mean we’ve achieved good results for the client – those cold, hard, unemotional numbers – is what really gets me going.

And the way to achieve those numbers is through using the other numbers available to us: yes, I’m talking about good old-fashioned targeting.

Every day, we are assaulted by more than 3,000 commercial messages, not to mention our Facebook feeds, Snapchat snaps, Twitter tweets, Instagram pics and every other bloody thing.

For even one of these to get through, it has to be relevant. To be relevant it has to be targeted. To be targeted it has to have had a considerable amount of thought behind it.

Is it the right list? The right time? The right website? As marketing practitioners, we have to cut through the noise and the media wastage to get to the precise target when they’re receptive. How? By running the numbers. By using the data available to us. 

Segueway alert – one of the smartest new pieces of media tech I’ve seen in the digital space recently is Quantcast (www.quantcast.com). If you don’t know about this I suggest you have a look, it just might be worth adding to your media schedule.

Right, now, where was I, oh yes – numbers. Even as a somewhat greying (read: experienced) marketer, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the number of new channels to which our creative product must contort and adapt.

No longer is it a DM pack to a targeted list or a well-placed press ad with a strong call to action. No, no. Now it’s all about integration, multi-channel, omni-channel no less.

But no matter what you call it, it’s still all about knowing the persona you’re targeting, understanding the insight that will help sell the product, finding where your audience consumes their media and being in the right place at the right time. In short, running the numbers.

Then, once you have the numbers right, it’s bloody helpful if you can serve up a beautifully crafted and elegantly written ad that’s impossible to say no to.

Yea: Craig McLeod


As a planner I love numbers. Love. Em. But part of loving numbers is realising their limitations. 

1. Numbers can only explain

In 2007, the Cadbury Gorilla campaign launched. In the years afterward, numerically-minded theorists would forensically prove just how that campaign worked, referencing memory encoding, distinctive assets and neuro-psychology. Now they may be right. But those analytical models were wholly useless during the campaign’s conception. The Gorilla campaign ignored commonly accepted ‘rules’ about consumer research, product-consumption-moments, or even commercial length. The campaign didn’t just ignore the ‘numerical’ approaches; it forced its proponents to reinvent them. 

Rather than look backwards, the artistic approach understands that every brief is unique; and that deliberate originality is the best way to cut-through a collective unconsciousness that is continually rearranging itself to ignore us. In this sense, the role of the creative industry is not always to give their client what they want (or what numerical systems demand) –  but to, as the architect Mark Wrigley puts it, “change the idea of what one can ask for”.

2. Numbers can only play fair

In 2009, the IPA released a report titled: ‘The Link Between Creativity and Effectiveness.’ It analysed 123 FMCG brands across 30 categories, and concluded: ‘for an average campaign for an average brand expect market share growth of 0.5 percent points of share growth per 10 percent points of Excess Share of Voice (ESOV).’  

This is the closest thing advertising has to Newtonian
law. In essence, market growth
can be bought. Easy. A proven strategy for well-pocketed clients. However, the primary goal of the creative industry should be to provide our clients with disproportionate market share. Exorbitant attention. Dramatic behaviour change. This requires going beyond what merely works, and creating a new, and unfair business advantage. 

That ain’t easy. The decision to use a subservient chicken to sell burgers ain’t easy. Nor using hatred to sell diesel cars. Van Damme doing the splits to sell trucks. These ideas owe far more to immeasurable and inspired serendipity than numerical logic. In short, creativity gets you what money can’t buy. 

3. Numbers can only tell the truth

Jay Z once rapped: “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.” 

Although this was a brag about his record sales, he makes a poignant observation: numbers don’t lie. But men and women do it all the time. 

We are continually post-rationalising, over generalising, under-estimating and misunderstanding the world and our place within it. Perhaps the strangest lies are not necessarily lies at all, but elaborate contortions our minds make to reconcile our untraceable ‘preferences’.  In his recent book, You May Also Like, Tom Vanderbilt writes: “We often do not seem to know what we like or why we like what we do. Our preferences are riddled with unconscious biases, easily swayed by contextual and social influences.”

While the murky depths of the mind have always baffled the efforts of science to force-fit human decision making into algebraic equations, the artistic approach thrives within a system that is closer to Chaos Theory. Internal deception, contortions, and contradiction – these are fertile conditions for creativity. Or as Alan Moore delicately states it: “Artists use lies to tell the truth.” 

Who do you agree with, Silk or McLeod? Let us know in the survey below:

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Sky fall: Competition swipes sales, subscribers

  • Media
  • February 20, 2019
  • Radio New Zealand
Sky fall: Competition swipes sales, subscribers

Sky Television's first half profit has dropped sharply as it battles tough competition, forcing it to raise prices.

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