The Creative as a Mad Scientist

The creative as a mad scientist, and how they’re really kinda frauds

The mad scientist gig is getting a lot of play these days. In an age of science fiction come to life where we can wear technology that records the world around us (not to mention speak practically about space tourism), the mad scientist is cool.

Great tech entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Sergey Brin and Steve Jobs have taken on almost mad scientist-like personas characterized by idiosyncrasy and ambition.

Creatives have started to adopt this persona. The creative director of a well-known Toronto-based creative agency recently hosted an industry conference dressed in a lab coat, spouting random facts about Nikola Tesla.

They appear to project radical visions of the future for clients (along with – of course - the exclusive ability to navigate this future). They seek to inspire innovation, facilitated by a test environment, something akin to a laboratory.

The trouble is, few of these creatives actually practice this data-focused lab approach. The creative testing that is deployed – often survey-based, or through focus groups, and rarely at the initiative of agencies – is sneered at as methodologically flawed. Indeed, several strategists at prominent creative agencies have told me that creatives at best reluctantly accept and at worst utterly reject research and analytics of any kind.

Their common line: “What we do simply can’t be measured in any meaningful way.”

This is both shortsighted and plainly wrong (and not very mad scientist-esque, is it?) The era of Big Data has ushered in an expectation of proof of both communication strategy and communication effectiveness. And though each of us would be wise to recognize the limitations of Big Data – it’s no silver bullet – advertisers exist in a highly disruptive and uncertain environment where a lab-based, test-and-learn approach to reducing uncertainty is highly desirable.

It’s also more attainable. A host of measurement technologies are cropping up that measure emotional and neurological response (and do not rely on the stated opinions of those whom we wish to influence). Brain wave measurement, pulse and eye tracking – each of these technologies is now economically accessible. More importantly, they can evaluate the very outcome creatives believe is immeasurable: An actual emotional response to content and message, and its propensity to affect a desired behaviour.

Smart agencies will cop on and move quickly to adopt these tools and technologies. Some challenges will still exist – how do we integrate this technology and approach into the creative process, for example.

But the upside is too great to ignore. It will strengthen sell-through potential of creative ideas. By measuring emotional response, creatives will have evidence to back their claims. In the Canadian market, this will likely mean less “lift, adapt and apply” from US and global creative, and more custom creations for this unique market. That means more business and better content for all.

It would also lend credibility to those creative mad scientist claims.
Until then, they’re just mad.