Creativity – intuition v science (careful with that plutonium Mr. Warhol)

Can (and should) we measure everything?

We’re living in an age of hyper-datafication. We’ve data-d the guts out of everything. Analyse. Qualify. Quantify. Faffify. Every last pixel measured and turned into a spreadsheet.

If we follow the science, the answers are all there. Indefutable. Black and white. Weighed and catalogued. The psychological knee jerk predictability quotient nit-picked down to the last millimeter.

Which is great, but it really isn’t. Because all this 21st Century algorithmic predictability is slowly but surely stripping creativity of its paint-spattered, mysterious moments of eureka-ness. You just tap in your prompts and the machine does the rest.

There’s a science, a theory, a measurement and a coefficient for everything. If I do X (whatever X is), what is the percentile predictability of Y happening? And if Y happens, what is the most risk-averse way of 100x-ing Y?

All good stuff if you’re measuring identical military-grade, laser-fired doowangles with an atomic clock. Not so good when it comes to the shambles we call the human race.

As much as ‘they’ would like you to think it, we are not lab rats, sheep or identikit automatons.

I like stilton. You like Babybel. Others may be lacto-intolerant.

But still, the scientific world tries to oversimplify the chaos with their chees-o-meters.

Analytics  descriptive, prescriptive and predictive. Single Attribution Analysis, Multi-Touch Attribution, Media Mix Modeling and Unified Marketing Measurement – it’s all out there. Everything from big data number crunching, to focus grouping.

It all has its uses. Absolutely. But sometimes we’re not dealing in absolutes. Logic often gets in the way of creative genius. The masses don’t always know better than the one person who had the idea in the first place.

Famous focus group fails

Focus groups can be really helpful. A bunch of target-market consumers are gathered in a room. The biscuits are brought out and a facilitator gets everyone to express their opinions on new product ideas or creative concepts. Problem is, some are only there for the Custard Creams and some have such strong opinions they sway the rest of the crumb-coated munch monkeys.

Apparently, focus groups told us the world was ready for Coke II, but it wasn’t ready for 2005’s relaunch of Doctor Who.

The real thing nearly wasn’t

The launch of new formula Coke II caused mass hysteria with Coke Original lovers. After positive consumer testing in 1985, ‘New Coke’ was launched with huge fuss and fanfare. It was going to give the people what they wanted. Or at least what the research said they wanted.

How wrong could they have got it?

New Coke ads were booed at the Houston Astrodome, head office were left answering 8,000 angry phone calls a day and the product was publicly dumped in sewers. 11 weeks later, the company was forced to bring the old recipe back, calling it “Coca-Cola Classic”. The Coca-Cola Company lost millions of dollars in research and advertising, and had they not backtracked, could easily have gone under. You can get the inside spin on ‘the most memorable marketing blunder ever’ here.

Just what the Doctor almost didn’t order

Since 1963, Doctor Who had been responsible for more bed wetting than R White’s Lemonade. But times change and sadly, in 1989, it had its last whizz around the universe. Besides an unsuccessful one-off Anglo-American TV movie in 1996, audio productions and other spin-offs, rumblings ebbed and flowed, and ebbed again about the BBC bringing the good Doctor back to TV again.

And apparently, during the pre-production stage, Doctor Who’s new producer and chief writer, Russell T Davies, hid negative consumer research from the BBC.

That meant production went ahead, regardless of what the focus group data said. The all new, 9th Doctor, starring Christopher Ecclestone, has so far gone on to spawn a further six Doctors, 169 episodes and 28 specials, and has bagged the BBC more awards than you could legally squeeze into the Tardis. As Steve Jobs put it, “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.”

Who knows best? You know best.

Following the scientific herd can lead to all sorts of problems. But it’s tempting, especially when it sounds so damned convincing.

F’rinstance, there’s the psychology of colour:

Red = passion, anger, urgency, excitement, danger and Prince Harry.

Orange = warmth, optimism, enthusiasm, friendliness, confidence and severe dehydration.

Yellow = joy, kindness, originality, empathy, enthusiasm and custard.

Green = nature, youth, growth, health, vibrancy and seasickness.

Blue = trust, authority, dependability, sincerity, simplicity and Viagra.

Black = power, sophistication, elegance, mystery, stability, and Johnny Cash’s wardrobe.

Apparently, red gets your belly rumbling, blue relieves the jitters and yellow makes you think every little thing’s gonna be alright.

Wikipedia says, and I quote:

‘While red is the color (sic) most associated with love, it also (sic) the color (sic) most frequently associated with hatred…’. What a load of bum fudge.

Genius starts where science ends

Do we ever stop to question this stuff? Thankfully some of us do.

There are people (and at dollop, we salute you), who listen to the science and then go ahead and do what feels right. They go with their gut.

Whoever came up with ‘Cherry Garcia’ and ‘Phish Food’.

Whoever decided to feature a Zombie on the front of an OffLimits cereal box.

Whoever put baked beans on a Weetabix, then splashed it all over the socials.

You’re the real heroes.

None of it makes measurable, scientifically grounded ‘sense’, but try telling Ben or Jerry that. At dollop, we’re not anti-science. But, we are anti-lowest-common-denominator. The sterile thinking that happens when we let historical facts get in the way of imagination.

Who do we follow if we don’t follow the data?

We’ve all been born with a thing that you can’t see, touch or smell. It can’t be prodded, poked or potted. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and at the same time, it makes all the sense in the world.

It’s flips the norm. It sticks a grubby finger in the freshly opened jam jar. And it squishes its nose up against the car window of life. Creative intuition – the thing that makes you stand out from all the clones who do it ‘cos the science tells them to.

Science is a way of measuring the measurable – exploring the world around us, testing hypotheses and filling text books with squiggles. Creativity is how we express ourselves. How we bring all that weird, daft, wobbly stuff that’s locked inside, to the outside.

Science and intuition – it’s all about inquiry and expression, but one has soul.

Science is R2D2. Intuition is Hunter S. Thompson.

Science is analytics. Intuition is Ballet Rambert.

No harm in having a nice balance of both. But as soon as we entrust our creativity to science, we’re doomed.

Getting the balance right

So my opinion (and that’s all it is when all’s said and done); by all means do your research, get elbow-deep in facts and figures. Definitely. But then let your beautiful mind off the leash. Have a giggle, do something different.

When science tells you to paint it blue, sod it, paint it bright orange – because nobody else does. And you like orange.

Consistency GOOD. Conformity BAD. Make it your mantra.

If you’re in the corporate world (let’s say finance), every one of your competitors, pretty much to the last, will use safe, predictable (scientifically qualified) blues, greys and blacks. Maybe a regal plum, at a push.

What would happen if you used a bright, acidic yellow green?

What if you threw caution to the wind and didn’t use stock imagery of Pinstripe Percy and Sensible Sandra laughing and pointing at a laptop. Come on people, we can do better than this.

It doesn’t mean you have to walk round town with your pants on your head and a roman candle up your Rear Admiral. Creative intuition can (and most often, should) still be based on a sound understanding of what your brand stands for and what your customers value. But that ‘scientific’ information doesn’t have to be a straightjacket.

What are your non-competitors up to?

Let’s say, for sake of argument, you want to communicate something that on the surface may seem pretty dull. Safety. Professionalism. Trust.

The temptation is to stick with the brand signals typical for your sector. It feels reassuring. You’ll look like you fit in. Thing is, you can get safety, professionalism and trust across just as much as everybody else, without looking or sounding like everybody else.

Why not dip into what other sectors are doing. How would a holiday company, a politician or an artisan bakery say ‘trust’? How would New Flash 3-in-1 No Nonsense Lemony Wipes say, “Trust us to get the job done”? All of a sudden you’re playing with a new ball and wearing go-faster bloomers.

Park the Analytics Apps, break out of your scientifically constructed prison and give your sixth sense a day at the beach with a box of paints and a massive bag of blue M&Ms.

Who are you going to put your faith in? The machines, the mob or the feeling in your water? We’d suggest a healthy balance of all three, but ultimately, it’s you that needs to make the creative decisions. So if in doubt, follow your gut (or let us follow ours for you). Who knows, you might just get noticed. You might even make a few ripples.

Want to put our creative intuition (and scientific knowhow) to the test? Give us a bell on: 01273 458568 or drop us a line at: hello@dollopcreative.co.uk – it’s gonna be fun.