FEATURE24 November 2015

Science battles with art for advertising hearts and minds

Europe Features

At a Debating Group event at the House of Commons last night, sponsored by Thinkbox, Charles Vallance, founder and chairman of VCCP and Caitlin Ryan, former group executive creative director, Karmarama put forward the motion that ‘science is squeezing out the art in advertising’. Jane Bainbridge reports


The motion was opposed by Marco Bertozzi, president global clients, VivaKi and Sarah Lawson Johnston, managing director Europe, Mediaocean and Lord Sharkey chaired the debate.

Charles Vallance opened by saying there was an assumption that science and art were at odds but that this wasn’t the case – “much innovation is a combination of art and science”. He went on to apply a narrower definition of science – so it was art vs data science. “Big data affects ideas and squeezes the life blood out of our trade.” So while he understood the need for data science to be used for measurement he said it was “now at a tipping point and there’s a danger of it being one-sided and slipping to the side of hard numbers”.

“How do you kill the art of advertising? You chip away until there’s nothing left but the seductive power of big data”, he said. Big data allows you to target with forensic accuracy he said, but great brands are imprecise. Vallance said big brands wanted their advertising to be seen beyond a tightly targeted audience and cited Chanel that “courts wastage” because it wants to be “over seen” – but data science wouldn’t allow that.

In his opening speech opposing the motion, Bertozzi  thanked Vallance for his “tour de force of sticking his head in the sand” and went on to argue that “we shouldn’t be limited by what we define as data science or creativity”.

He too made the point that it should be a combination of art and science and “how science can enhance creativity”.

“Targeting – and not necessarily micro-targeting – is about saying who is the right person to put this ad in front of,” he argued. Bertozzi claimed (later strongly disputed by Vallance) that big ad agencies made most of their money out of TV ads so they wanted to hold on to that model but that “apps wield as much influence as the ad”.

As Bertozzi talked about multiple devices, fragmentation and reduced attention spans he said his industry was about “mining attention”.

Supporting Vallance in proposing the motion, Ryan opened by criticising how art was being squeezed out of many areas of life, including our education system where targets, STEM subjects and formulae for creative writing were now preferred. “Arts are downgraded wherever we look,” she said. “If science squeezes out art, it also squeezes out meaning.” Ryan then wondered if the squeeze was the fault of creatives who were not suspicious enough of the research and numbers. “Data is merely the footprint people leave behind,” she added.

“Advertising technology comes under fire mainly because of a lack of understanding,” said Lawson Johnston in opposing the motion and went on to describe programmatic advertising as “dynamic creativity”.

She then went on to cite a number of brands who put science at the heart of their brief and used it to test great creative ideas such as Old Spice.

The debate was then opened for comments from the audience. Among the ideas put forward were that data-driven advertising had yet to deliver a successful brand building advertising format that people like and want to engage with; that as the audience fragmented the need grew to find that audience and deliver something engaging; and that advertising should be about quality rather than volume.

The vote was in favour of the motion.