The Left Brain and Right Brain at War

Here’s something you probably don’t know about me: I’m an artist.

As a photographer, I got into computers because I was sensitive to photo chemistry and needed a less toxic method of creating art. That led to a graduate degree in art focusing on electronic media, and a career that’s veered toward technology.

On this path, I’ve taken an affinity to advertising. Keep in mind: I work at arguably one of the world’s most left-brained companies, full of technologists and engineers who typically view the industry’s right-brained side with a wary eye.

Advertising is considered a “soft” science. Occasionally, people call it pseudo-science, and don’t believe it works. A lot of the people I interact with on a daily basis begrudgingly agree advertising works, but they take a sort of superior view, as if to say, “Well, it certainly influences the masses about what to buy, but it just annoys the crap out of me.” As if they didn’t want to be the burly sailor picking up the beautiful girl in the Old Spice commercial. Or for women — bringing home the bacon while wearing their short-shorts — or having an orgasmic experience while washing their hair.

The old standby John Wanamaker quote, “Half my advertising budget is wasted, but I just don’t know which half” is gleefully thrown out by this crowd. They think that dragging out this relic shows how smart they are, and when they fix advertising’s problems, this adage won’t be true.

The simple truth is advertising works quite well. Looking ahead, technology will make advertising work even better. We look forward to the day when new technologies enable us to efficiently spend our media budgets and we can point to fantastically targeted creative that creates massive brand awareness, significantly improves purchase intent, drives huge sales, and builds incredible long-term loyalty.

Despite technology advances, a good chunk of the advertising business will still be incredibly creative. Advertising pulls hard from the right brain, and isn’t necessarily linear in its thought processes. The creative side of advertising — the building of ads, copy writing, the creation of memes that will change the way people perceive a brand, or drive demand for a new product — is a bit more right brain than left. But advertising’s media side draws strength from the right brain.

While we can automate the optimization of how media dollars are spent during a campaign — once data starts coming in — everything starts out with a set of assumptions that are driven by the softer sciences. It’s part psychology, part sociology, part inspiration. Sometimes assumptions are on target, sometimes they aren’t. Remember the new VW Beetle? It was supposed to appeal to young new car buyers, but it won the hearts of Baby Boomers.

That’s why this space is so complex and difficult, yet fun and amazing. You get data, make hard decisions about allocating your budget to get maximum return such as where you’ll buy, what placements you’ll buy, and what audience your product will sell to. You drive these decisions as scientifically as you can. Still, you must start with inspiration and instinct. You have to be creative and make a leap of logic and faith.

That’s what I love about this industry.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.