When I started working in advertising, one of the questions that my boss - Hermie - used to ask the team was "Is media planning an art or a science?"
The question is - in spite of its simplicity - profound because it affected the way we think and the way we approach media planning:
If it were pure science, then anything and everything that the computer, the surveys, the algorithms spewed out - whether they were ratings, optimizers, or indices - were to be followed. All arguments would be centered on which one was cheaper and more effective - and which was delivered the better measurable value.
Even when it came to targeting, it was all about identifying the profitable target demographics - those who were most likely to buy the product - based on research that was conducted by specialists in the field of data-gathering.
But where does that leave creativity?
That "umph" that makes a media plan for a certain brand its own unique property. (After all, media plans - and communication plans - are desigend to address a specific brand problem.)
Where does that come in?
On the other hand...
If it were pure art, then what's the point of subscribing to countless research and validating/cross-validating research on viewing and reading habits of audiences? What was the point of identifying the "zapping" threshold (a big issue back then - otherwise known as "channel surfing") for consumers? What was the point of quantifying "involvement" and putting it as a criterion for selection of TV programs?
If it were pure art, then what is the point of understanding the response of consumers to advertising - either in the form of recalling the ad the day after it was first aired and a few weeks after or of actually trekking down to the stores and picking one up off the shelves?
If it were art, then everything becomes subjective...
That's when I started thinking that media planning and communications planning were not pure art - neither was planning pure science.
It was a careful balance between art and science.
Science provides the structure and the discipline - the starting point. Art provides the weaving of a story out of the numbers.
Science provides the "rules" - that once understood can be bent and broken as and when necessary through the principles of art.
Art provides the inspiration and the hypotheses - science provides the currency to measure whether a certain hypothesis holds water or not.
I used to say in trainings that I conduct with teams that a media planner is an amalgam of so many professions and disciplines: They are psychologists, sociologists, social observers, experimentalists, group therapists, psychoanalysts, storytellers, and design-/experience-creators. At the same time, they ought to be economists, auditors, accountants, statisticians, researchers, and eyeball- and transaction-counters.
The golden mean.
The yin and the yang.
That's where great campaigns - I think - come from.
Thanks to Woooody on Flickr for the photo