Marrying Art and Science In Marketing

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How do you integrate rigor into that process?

There's not much rocket science involved. Sometimes, it means stepping back and reminding ourselves what we set out to get done: Who are we talking to, and what is their frame of mind? That can be eye-opening. You can get so engaged in the creative process that you can fall into making decisions within the narrower context of a piece of creative as opposed to making decisions based on your objective, the consumers' world, and their limited time.

Why is time important?

We have to keep in mind how little attention the consumer is going to give us in this space. One of the best examples is creative for the sides of buses. When you're looking at a PDF on your screen, you can say, “Great, we'll have three bullets and we'll talk about the interest rates, the ATM fees, and here's a funny little bit of creative—and here's another line, this is great.” And then, as you're walking around the city and see a bus go by, you say, “Oh my God, what were we thinking? This thing is flashing by.”

The same holds true for billboards or print ads. I always think in multiple layers of engagement. If someone pauses for a second before they flip the page, did they take something away from the headline? If they stop for another 10 or 15 seconds looking at the ad, were they rewarded for that level of attention and did it accomplish something for us? We don't want to construct a piece of work that requires the highest level of engagement…all the way down to the fine print at the bottom before we move the ball forward.

What other art/science challenges do you contend with?

The tyranny of deadlines. One reason that a body of creative output is not gelling stems back to how we articulated the insight at the start. So, we go back and revisit that original insight. By doing so, we run up against deadlines—people in the business tapping their feet and waiting for the work to roll off the factory floor.

It's tempting to say, “Well, it's good enough and we have this deadline....” We want to stay deadline-driven while finding a way not to sacrifice quality.

In all candor, the [actor Samuel L.] Jackson scripts [for Capital One's new Quicksilver credit card campaign] that we wound up shooting were not the first ones that rolled off the factory floor. It took some intestinal fortitude to stay with our drive for quality. It helped having a CEO who supported the deadline while also demanding that we not succumb to deadline pressure by sticking with it until we had a script we thought was great.

How do you know the art/science marriage is working?

When you're doing this right, it's almost like unclogging a pipe. You always struggle, but if you manage the relationship well, you make adjustments and then come back to the table with a sense of clarity. There's a cleaner, better flow of work, and the output is obviously stronger.

Making the Marriage of Art and Science Last

1. Zero-in on the catalyzing insight. All marketing activities stem from insights, almost all of which are derived from data. Horst maintains a “hawkish” focus on the consumer belief, frustration, or need that analytics have identified.

2. Recognize and remove wishful thinking. Horst says he is “rigorous about paring away anything we want consumers to think,” while focusing on “absolute truth.” Wishful thinking about consumer thinking from Horst's previous work in consumer packaged goods industry: Consumers want cereal that tastes good and provides 12 essential minerals and vitamins. Consumer truth: Healthy cereal tastes bad.

3. Take creative back to the source. Rather than rushing past the marketing brief to get to judging creative work, Horst challenges his team to “bore into the brief.” He wants to be “obsessive” about ensuring that the original objective of the creative work is expressed in clear language and on target.

4. Be truthful about time. Horst frequently reminds his team how precious little time consumers devote to their creative messages: poring over a PDF draft on a screen is vastly different than seeing the same ad zip by on the side of a bus.

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