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Art vs. Science . . . again.

April 27, 2009

It’s not a new debate in our industry.

And it’s not one I am attempting to solve here.

It’s one, though, that seemingly the measurable nature of today’s advertising mediums (digital in particular) + hard economic times has driven Coca-Cola to lean towards one side . . . science.

Coca- Cola announced last Monday at the Association of National Advertisers Financial Management Conference in Phoenix, that they are not going to  promise anything more than recouped costs to their advertising agencies if results are not achieved — but profit margins as high as 30% if their work hits top targets.  Read more about the move on Ad Age where companies like P&G have already adopted the model and folks like AB’s Keith Levy discuss it’s value.

Coming from a digital media planning/buying background this concept of performance isn’t one that requires a mindset shift – frankly for most media minds this isn’t that much of a leap.  I’ve had to measure impressions delivered, click through rates, interaction, cost per click, cost per acquisition, and even intercept studies that deliver % lift on brand oriented metrics.  But I have struggled with broader terms like “engagement,” “social” and “buzz” with the evolution of digital marketing that one would have to think more art than science to deliver.   Could it be the difference between a media perspective (science) and a strategic/creative perspective (art). . . maybe, but I can’t help but still wonder where this type of pay-for-performance is headed.

From the article it sounds like there is an assignment of value on effort, a budgetary allocation based on “whether or not this project is worthy” and even “what level quality of work do we need” for a given effort.  While not bad accounting sense, still one that would make an artist worried.

We could also assume that this shift would make the artists work harder, while not compromising their craft, the artists could find even more creative ways to deliver results than before.  The sheer competitive nature of agencies may wind up delivering some of the best artistic ideas that work.

At the end of the day, all we can really lean on is the establishment of expectations with a solid definition of “performance” for any given project.

For a media agency it might be delivering an audience, hitting impression goals, lower cost per thousand.  For a creative agnecy (working with media) delivering response, interaction, brand awareness, talk, and purchase intent.  For everyone it might be sales, calls, store traffic or even delivering a pop culture icon with copy cat videos on YouTube and Facebook pages.   But, at the end of the day, isn’t there always  a level of trust, art, and taking a risk?  Who knew Nannerpuss from Denny’s or the GEICO Gecko would be a cultural phenomenon?  Really, were those performance based decisions?

Just another old advertising debate rearing it’s ugly head.

Here are some art vs. science perspectives from RT’s thought leaders on

What do you all think?

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