‘Advertising: Art or Science?’… Not this again

June 20th, 2013

I genuinely love economics. This may seem a bit strange to many, but to me, it’s absolutely fascinating – simply because of the way in which it allows you to look at the world.

Much like politics, absolutely everything can be categorised and processed in order to have some kind of economic meaning, which, particularly in a capitalist economy, is pretty damn interesting. From the birds and the bees, to the ECB (European Central Bank) – Everything is Economics.

For this reason I believe the subject is naturally more of a philosophy than a science (stay with me!), but most economists and academics (who are notoriously poor at actually predicting economic change) adamantly disagree. Economics of course has scientific elements, but what many tend to skim over is the rigorous intensity of thought, required to comprehend something as complex as human nature. What is frustrating is that, short on self-confidence, economics is too worried what its friends may think. Desperate for approval, recognition and reputability, it is obsessed with trying to be classified as a science. And by trying to be something that it’s not, it is compromising what is so special about it – an ironically universal truth.

I waffle on about this (arguably tedious) situation surrounding Economics, because of the unquestionable similarities that can be drawn with Advertising, and in particular, the age-old debate of ‘Advertising: Art or Science?’.

It’s been exactly that – age-old – and yet in all that time, not once (to my knowledge) have the actual terms ‘Art’ and ‘Science’ come under question.

To recap, 99% of the debate has already, in my mind anyway, been put to bed by Stephen King, as he concludes that there isn’t “the slightest degree of conflict between Art and Science”. He argues, correctly in my view, that advertising is ultimately “creative imagination subjected to critical control”. However, as a result of the times surrounding his analyses, Stephen’s conclusions are used to argue that the debate is not about Art OR Science, but Art AND Science. This is the only amendment I, somewhat audaciously, would like to make.

Instead of being BOTH Art and Science, I believe Advertising must be seen as neither.

For the same reason that Economics should cease its futile attempts to be seen as a Science, so too must the ad industry desist in trying to be seen as an Art or a Science – or worse both!

Why you ask? And why do I care? Because the terms ‘Art’ and ‘Science’ are more loaded than the phrase ‘pleb’, uttered by any Conservative. They are dripping with an embarrassing desperation, fuelling exactly the fire they are designed to snuff out.

Advertising’s unique ability to fuse scientific and creative elements through the understanding and manipulation of human nature, places it, intellectually, in a league of its own. However, in order to achieve the reputation that this quasi-profession craves so much, requires a much needed boost in self-confidence. Instead of trying so hard to be something that it’s not, the industry must begin to think unanimously in terms of “creative imagination subjected to critical control” rather than the derogatory tags of Art and Science.


Alex Dobson is a market research account handler at Hall & Partners. He’s passionate about strategic thinking and is a keen challenger of conventional wisdoms in advertising. For more from Alex, follow him on twitter.


Photo credit: The one and only, Mr. Wizard

One Comment:

  1. I’m not sure I agree with you on that for two reasons, Alex; advertising has the power to transform lives from an emotional stand-point, and from my understanding, that same power can be yielded from, what is ‘conventional art’. Secondly, there is a process involved in creating advertising constructs. Different procedures, formed by different Creatives (and the rest of the account people involved), but a process none-the-less. In a convoluted way, can it not be argued that Advertising, at least the creative process, is a science?

    So there you have it, Advertising: An Art and a Science. But the point I am making (hopefully in a comprehensible way), is that, consideration of whether Advertising is neither an Art or a Science, is dependant on the time, or at what stage in the process you are looking at it.

    To simplify a complex argument, Advertising is a Science during the creation; the finished construct, whatever it may be (print, tv, digital), can be/should be considered as Art.

    Some people like myself, like putting ‘tags’ on things, as it helps to simplify how to approach certain subjects. So therefore, you have to accept that some people shall place ‘tags’ on subjects like advertising, because it allow them to figure out the ‘next step’ (that is, how to approach problem, and find a solution to that problem). After all, the whole point the argument was raised, I suspect, is that someone was trying to find ‘answers’, to figure out the ‘next step’.

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