The Art of the Science of the Art of Advertising
A psuedo-scientific approach to understanding how exceptional advertising is created and why it so often blows up in your face.
  1. Explore the formula by clicking BEGIN below
  2. Variables represent disciplines and not practioners (e.g. creative not creatives)
  3. Traditional, digital or the snake oil du jour, the formula applies to all advertising
i2 + e
r1 x r2
x + y + z
(Rp + Rt)R#

(Rp + Rt)R#
s is for Strategy (a.k.a. What we say)
This is the starting point; the most important variable in the formula. If it’s not right, it doesn’t matter how clever the creative is or how brilliantly executed the media plan is, or even how much the client’s mother-in-law likes the work; if it’s not right, you’re dead in the water. Get the strategy wrong and nothing else matters. •
So how is s arrived at? By virtue of a formula (above in purple chalk) that includes a cube root that would make your browser's type renderer asplode if I tried to express it here. D is for Data – all the possible information that can be gleaned about the product, the competition, the marketplace, the consumer and so on. Combined, it’s a mile high, a mile wide and a mile long – which is why we need to get to the root of it. Or, more appropriately, the cube root of it – because you need to distill this big, three-dimensional block of data down to a single point. But this Herculean achievement alone isn't enough. The necessity of HI is why I believe that the best planners are as creative as any writer or art director. HI is Human Insight. All that distilled data is just so many pie charts until a brilliant planner imbues it with meaning that will touch people where they live. With such insight applied, suddenly that distilled data is exponentially more powerful.   •   • 
c is for Creative (a.k.a. How we say it)
That sexy thing we call ‘creative’ gets all the attention but in reality, creative is strategy’s bitch. And I say that as a creative. The sole purpose of creative is to ensure that the message (i.e. the strategy) cuts through the clutter and plops itself down comfortably inside consumers' minds. Toss your strategy out there all plain and naked without creative expression and you’ll need to spend a fortune on media to be heard. Creative multiplies the strategy.   •   • 
Creative itself is the idea (i) plus the execution (e). Why is i squared? Simply because it is the more vital of the two. A brilliant execution can’t save a bad idea but a bad execution won’t completely destroy a great idea. Still, you need both to be the best they can.   •   • 
So what makes an idea awesome? It’s all about relevance. The idea must be relevant to both product (r1) and audience (r2). If your idea is irrelevant to either (i.e. a value of 0) then you literally have nothing.   •   • 
Execution (e) is the sum total of all (x + y + z) the creative and production disciplines that touch a project. Typography, photography, writing, art directing, designing, developing, coding, film directing, casting, acting, wardrobing, colour correcting, retouching, sound designing, editing and/or any other -graphys or -ings your project requires. That's a lot of chances to screw it up. Don't.   •   • 
m is for Media (a.k.a. Where we say it)
A brilliant strategy multiplied by brilliant creative means squat if nobody sees it. Whether it’s conducted via television, tweets or Post-it notes stuck to hamsters, media properly practiced is what gives (sc) exposure and, more than just multiplying its value, it increases it exponentially.   •   • 
Effective media is a matter of reaching the right people (Rp) at the right time (Rt) the right number of times (R#). It doesn’t matter if my neighbour thinks your beer ad is cute; she doesn’t like beer and is therefore not the right people. And if she did like beer, connecting with her on Monday morning is probably not as useful as connecting with her early on Friday night. Finally, no matter how good your product and its ad may be, people have waaaaay more important things to think about. It takes more than once for an idea to register (although brilliant creative will make it register more quickly). An account guy with whom I used to work had a Nixon (!) quote on his wall that went something to the effect of “You have to repeat your message and repeat your message and repeat your message. And just when you think you’re going to barf if you have to say it one more time, that is when people are finally beginning to take notice.” Right on, Tricky Dickie.   •   • 
a is for Account Management (a.k.a. Why we say it)
Here is where it gets interesting. With s, c, and m, the higher the value, the better. But ads are not created just for fun in some sanitised ivory tower. Ads are created for a purpose and that purpose, ultimately, is money. And when money is involved, people can get crazy and lose sight of what’s important. That’s why kickass account management is soooo vital. With a, you want a perfect whole number value of 1. A value of 1 represents just the right amount of account management which in turn allows (sc)m to realise its maximum value. (Any value divided by 1 leaves that value unchanged.) However, too much account management (overthinking, second-guessing, or catering to the whims of the client's boss's spouse, perhaps) will get you a value of 2 (or worse) – and suddenly the power of (sc)m is cut in half (or worse). Finally, when a is completely punted – a value of 0 – you get a divide-by-zero error and everything blows up in your face.   •   • 

IMPORTANT: It is imperative to stress that a does not represent solely the activities of the folks we lovingly refer to as ‘suits’ even if account management is their primary responsibility. Account management is the responsibility of everyone – account execs, planners, creatives, production, media, and even the clients themselves. I’ve seen literally years’ worth of strategic and creative development get tossed out the window because the clients didn’t keep their own mucky-mucks in the loop.
So what does it all mean? It means no one discipline can operate in isolation, aloof and separate from the others. It means that if just one discipline fails at its job then everyone is screwed. Try plugging a zero into s, c, m or a and see what happens. It also means there is no easy way out; there is no other, magic formula to automate the creation of advertising (as some linear-thinking left-brainers have sought for years). If such were possible, Bernbach would have figured it out years ago and today advertising would be run by the same computers that ruined the stock market. Instead, there is only this formula, the chemistry of smart people working together. That’s the true science of advertising. It works when everybody works together and amounts to nothing if even one person doesn’t do their job.   •  •