The Warc Blog

Advertising: Science or art?

Posted by: Joseph Clift, Product Manager, Warc

Blog author

Is advertising success achieved through incremental research, careful checking of data and sound planning – or is it more to do with the creative "eureka moment"? This "science vs art" question has troubled advertising's biggest brains for decades. Remember that famous Bill Bernbach quote? "Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art."

The industry's latest attempt at settling the matter came with a lively debate at the Edinburgh International Marketing Festival earlier this week. Arguing for the scientists were O&M's global effectiveness director Tim Broadbent and Heineken's Tom Gill; for the artists, Marketing Society CEO Hugh Burkitt and The Leith Agency's Gerry Farrell. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the final vote the motion – "This house believes advertising should be more about science and less about art" – was defeated fairly comfortably.

During the debate, both sides agreed that we need both science and art in order to be truly successful. But there was strong disagreement over which of the two should be given priority when creating an ad campaign. For Burkitt at least, it is art that, ultimately, gets the job done for marketers: "Scientists are good at the study of advertising, while artists are good at the creation of advertising," he told the audience. "Science can take you only so far."

Hugh Burkitt on science vs art in advertising (2:10)

To Farrell, the industry's need to prove effectiveness – and many planners' adoption of faddish marketing theories – was actively damaging. Effectiveness case studies, he added, could not forecast what would be useful in the future, as they only measure what has been successful in the past. Forget head of insight, for Farrell such marketing scientists would more honestly be called "head of hindsight". Science's Achilles heel is that there isn't a secret formula for creating successful ads," he added. "Every single brief is different and works differently ... The mystery of where ideas come from cannot be explained by science." Instead, Farrell said that the genesis of many great campaigns based on an instantly-recognisable creative idea – from Sony Bravia's Bouncy Balls to Skoda's Cake Car – came about thanks to unplanned-for, unmeasurable serendipity. A creative eureka moment, in other words.

Comments from the audience – mainly made up of senior marketers – suggested widespread sympathy for this point of view. O&M's Hugh Baillie suggested that the over-emphasis of "science" within the industry had come at the expense of art over recent years. "The quality of ads has declined because measurement has become more important in the boardroom," he added.

Gill agreed that science was winning the debate within the industry, but reminded the audience that this victory could prove to be a good thing over the long term. He pointed to the vast sum being spent on advertising – around $470bn a year globally, on latest estimates. A sum which, Gill suggested, should not be entrusted solely to the artistic community. Moreover, the recent rapid expansion of the measurement tools available to marketers – social listening, neuroscientific advances and so on – is helping to create better ads. "Art is no longer core to creativity," Gill said.

Broadbent's argument for science over art was based on research from Peter Field and others, showing that "creatively-awarded" campaigns contribute significantly stronger business results than the norm. "Science has given creatives some very powerful ammo," Broadbent argued. "Take that to the beancounters – creative campaigns sell more."

More broadly, given all the talk of an impending global economic slowdown – and possibly a recession – marketers are going to have to get scientific to survive, he argued. When times are tough, the marketing budget is often the first thing that clients cut (Warc's new Global Marketing Index report certainly backs this point up). And garnering data to support the assertion that marketing activity does indeed impact on the client's bottom line becomes especially valuable in such circumstances. Moreover, in the agency world, such client cutbacks will lead them to hire fewer graduates – compromising creativity over the long term.

"That's why it is our job to protect and defend the marketing budget," Broadbent said.

Warc subscribers can read more about the presentations from EIMF 2012 in our full write-up of the conference. Other recent reports can be browsed in our Event Reports section.

23 August 2012 09:49


There are 9 comments on this blog

I understand why the scientist lost the debate because they believed that advertising should be more about science and less about art which is clearly wrong but first of all it is good that both sides agreed that we need both science and art in order to be truly successful but the scientist were wrong because even though there was strong disagreement over which of the two should be given priority when creating an ad campaign, I believed that  what Burkitt said about the art ultimately, getting the job done for marketers. He said "Scientists are good at the study of advertising, while artists are good at the creation of advertising," he told the audience. "Science can take you only so far." And for me this is the truth. This article on whether advertising is an art or science has some connection with the arts chapter in the theory of knowledge textbook because in the chapter there is a subtopic that states “What counts as art?” and under this chapter it is said that one way of deciding whether or not an object is a work of art is to ask if it has any practical purpose and also artists and philosophers have sometimes set out their own criteria with which to define what counts as a work of art. And this article also has a little connection with the Theory of Knowedge class activities because during class we had to pick between two info graphics, the one that catches our eye the most.
Cynthia N. 26 August 2013 at 11:00pm
Art or Science response:

Art would never be able to express itself without the artists' purpose of its presentation. I appreciate how both sides of the argument understand how each side needed both sides in order to be effective to the audience. I think the majority of the audience that have an objective view would be the scientists and the artists because they have to see the advertise to see whether or not it may catches the target audience and with factual context in order to prove their point instead of it being a portrait of beauty when the scientists were trying to prove their ideas as well. In order for something to be consider as an "art" it must have a purpose and I said earlier that it would be impossible if an artist do some kind of advertisement without putting in a meaningful information that in order for them to portray their news the art must present it that way. It is like if you were to be promoting soda then clothing should not be one of the main objects in the art itself, it must combine in order to demonstrate its purpose. Scientists have done all their research and all that they could in order to get facts or is plausible enough for the audience to be credible of the poster or advertisement. Although it is difficult because not everyone have similar likes, or that not everyone appreciate arts. Although in a way, artists always try to persuade their ideas or try to teach morality to others. Art does not only mean that it is just a photograph painting, drawing, or sketch but it can be as a graph, or a type of writing and also a dance. It is where the artist is able to feel what he feels towards a certain  engenders them to do something and art could be one of the ways they express their feelings.

Now with technology, info-graphics are ever better ways to present a certain project/topic because you can add what you may like to put (as long as it stays in topic) and can be design however you like but it must grab the targeted audience in order for it to be effective such as color, texture, and the way certain things are angled and with technology we have cameras and computers/laptops, smartphones where we can not only get the image right there and done instead of taking time to draw them because before things were done by just drawing them down with descriptions by using our senses. It is easier to alter the way things can be such as Photoshop where you can completely change the body shape of a person within that photo (not the person itself) but that just tells you how much harder to find reliable photos because you may never know where everything comes from and it is harder to find the artist through online since most are just remakes or came from another source. It is sometimes harder to find the original author when using things from the internet.

I think it was a good activity from class about the comparisons of both info-graphics and how it caught our attention. It was important to know that the artist to use sources cited on their poster when my teacher showed us the two different projects, and although when we saw it we were more upon the one about Teen Suicide because it catches the audience, whether or not it was frightening but that was not the purpose of the activity, because if the artist, of the poster about Teen Suicide, were to put brighter colors the audience would had been deceived by the artist purpose and would be more distraught just of what they read but the artist was right on point, given quick facts and gave the mood and that's how they persuaded us to understand what it was meant to be.  Unlike the other one, it did lack of getting the purpose and although it looked more peaceful but the text was more dense and in order to read that it would had been time wasted when it could had been explained in a shorter period to get the audience's attention, in my opinion.  As a matter of fact, because the other did not grab my attention I did not know what was the title of it, although it may look bright and 'organized' it did not capture my attention enough to figure out the obvious.
Paola A. 27 August 2013 at 0:40am
I find it interesting that $470  billion is being spent on advertising and that science is beating the arts especially when it comes to campaigns in which art campaigns receive better feedback. That maybe due to the fact that art is an expression of the artist's that makes the viewer view it as subjective or objective for them, depending on their views. When talking about infotogrophy, in my opinion I think people will find the more artistically done pieces have a higher impact on us. We can look at the teen suicide infograph versus the teen cellphone infograph, the teen suicide graph was more impacting. The color scheme and information captured my attention while the cell phone one was boring and lengthy.
The two videos added two to youtube one for Skoda and another for Sony Bravia which were highly creative. The Skoda commercial was a group of bakers and confectioners built a car out of cakes and the Bravia commercial was a commercial in which colorful balls bounced around the streets. These commercials are memorable due to the artistic impact they had on me. 
Ganiu O. 27 August 2013 at 2:11am
I find it fundamentally important that opposing forces of the debated argument established a common ground in which both agreed that successful advertising is dependent on BOTH Art and Science. "Scientists are good at the study of advertising, while artists are good at the creation of advertising"-Hugh Burkitt. To a large extent I agree with Mr. Burkitt, since it basically shows how both are to an extent ineffective without the other. A good example of how art and science are equally important is in the creation of infographics, which depends on both to convey a strong and informational message. The reason why Art is losing the battle in advertising-in my perception is because art unlike science art varies by personal perception while science is pretty much straightforward, in addition to the fact that science studies whereas art is responsible for creating the advertisement. Which makes it easier in a way to blame the failures on art since art has a visible effect whereas science does not, thus allowing science to grow in power and seen as more effective. This article relates to the art chapter in the TOK textbook as it tries to judge art and deals with the subjectivist and objectivist views on art and shows the impact science has on art. This article connects to the activity we did in tok, in which the class had to choose between two infographics based on which was most appealing to the eye and conveyed its message. 
Edwin R. 27 August 2013 at 2:54am
Art and science are two areas of knowing that complement each other. When I first looked at art I could not connect it to science, at first view they seem to have nothing in common, but they do. Science  has helped to improve art.  With the invention of computers and the advancement of technology, artists now have a greater range of colors that they could use to get their message across, something they didn't have back then. It is not  surprising to me that both science and art are necessary for ads. They are just both critical in human's lives and they play a big role in how we would react to an add, because they appeal to  both our logic (science) and to our senses (art). Although, we cannot negate that there is a connection between the two, is art really more important than science when it comes to advertisements? Art can give us knowledge, by gaining experiences from different authors or different paintings, but could that knowledge be available in an ad without science? Although art is a subjective interpretation, an ad has to be made, any art form has to be made, so that it can appeal to many audiences and they can appreciate it as well. With science backing up an ad, I think this could attract many people. Both science and art play a big role, because science decides what they wan through research and experiments and gives the audience what they want with creativity. It is sad that the marketing budget is the first to go when there is financial difficulties, but not at all surprising. A lot of money is put into ads and it's great to see what people come up with using science and art in a way that effectively gets their point across. Info graphics are the perfect blend between art and science and they get their point across using facts and art to inform the reader of something.
Blanca V. S. 27 August 2013 at 4:30am
During the class we had a brief opening to look at two different advertisements and see which one attracted our eyes the most. Both were inside an info graphic which talked about a main topic but what determined the readers attention was the art. Life is full of art and without it we wont be able to see the true meaning of it. In this article it demonstrates how the debate was not won by those who thought that art was not a part of science but they finally decided that it is impossible to think that way. In the chapter of Art I was captured when talking about how the representation of art can have a significant meaning. Art offers any kind of Knowledge of the World. With this we can exemplify how art is in many different categories to show that it is part of the natural World we live in, in which it includes Science. By looking at the video of the Silk Worm in class, I was able to observe how the scientist used the art to demonstrate a scientific procedure in which they used art. This not only made people realize that art is inside sciences but opened others minds that art is live without the creation of things or visualization we won't be able to make thoughtful experiments to learn more about the world. 
Yeni M. 27 August 2013 at 4:44am
Personally I am on the fence in the debate of art v.s. science. I beleive that they are intertwined and that you cant have one without the other. I found the comment "Persuasion is an art" to be interesting. As a verb, I would say persuasion could be an art but as a noun persuasion would be more associated with sciences and the brain. Info graphics could be used to please audiences on both sides of the debate but I think for our project the Arts would be more appealing. To tie everything back to TOK, the whole debate comes from personal perspective. Really all of this is about how the audience perceives the information that is put before them. 
Nya F. 27 August 2013 at 5:00am
What a very similar debate the art versus science is to the  nature versus nurture debate; how we've all come to realize that they both depend on each other In order for a child to develop a certain way. I believe the same for art versus science, the development of advertising needs both art and science to depend on each other in order for the best results to occur, but having to choose a single one to overshadow the other is extremely difficult to do when speaking of something that needs so much of both: Advertising. Advertising is absolutely a combination of both Art and Science, and by having one without the other it would only lose its purpose. Referring to the scientist in the video whom believed art was more of an important factor, I would have to counter the fact that anyone should believe one is more important than the other, because in advertising they absolutely complement each other. Just as art may have its important reasons for being the most important  so does science. Info-graphics in the same way are very much like advertising, whereby the main purpose it serves is to get the attention of its consumers or readers of an event. I see how one may believe that art would be its official most important asset to it, but without science art isn't art and without art, science isn't science. Both are intertwined with each other, which is why they complement each other. As a knower this would be my statement, Persuasion is a science and Persuasion is an art, Hence the reason being that science is art and art is science, both of which are intertwined in each other. 
Maxwell K. 27 August 2013 at 6:28am

How advertising is art n science or bussiness explain with examples...??

bhagyashri b. 05 September 2016 at 2:31pm
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