There’s an age-old debate in this industry—is advertising an art or a science? Most come to the same answer. It’s both. And they aren’t wrong, but the way people describe the science of advertising often is.

The science of advertising is usually defined by the rise of automated marketing, big data and analytics. The debate of art vs. science is framed as man (creative) vs. machine (an increasingly automated media world). Advertisers perceive science the same way Hollywood does (probably because we all goofed off in biology class.)

We focus on the result, teens conjuring a cyborg mega-babe out of a computer. But that’s just technology, and technology is not science. Science is a method, and the scientific method is more important to advertising now, than ever.

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In a world with real-time insights and big data analytics tools, it is both possible and expected to prove the effectiveness of marketing. However, all the data in the world doesn’t translate into clear results without a plan.

So, let’s refresh on the scientific method as it applies to advertising:

  • Start with a question. This may be framed as an objective. We’re asking how can we do X to achieve our desired result, Y?
  • Do the research. Science and advertising are an ongoing process of trying, failing and repeating until something goes right. We don’t have to and shouldn’t start from square one.
  • Construct a hypothesis. This is the plan. The messaging, media and measurement that we believe will deliver our desired results.
  • Experiment. (Experiment again.) This step is crucial. Because we have constructed a plan, we can administer a controlled experiment, using all our shiny real-time data to test our hypothesis simultaneously. If we are seeing the desired results, it’s time to scale the plan to a wider audience. If we’re not (and that’s okay,) it’s time to dive into the data, reconstruct our hypothesis and test again.
  • Share the results. Applying a method to campaign planning and measurement allows for the results to deliver clearer insight. By establishing our goals and process, we now have a defined story to reference as we analyze our performance. We can see what went right and what can be improved.

Amidst all the reporting dashboards and data visualizations, it’s important to remember the human elements of advertising and marketing. And the science of advertising is no exception to this. It’s founded in the most basic of human instincts—asking questions and looking for answers.

Technology is a helpful tool. But if not applied to a process, it doesn’t yield results on its own.

Have a hypothetically great weekend, everybody!

-Your beaker-spilling friends at Brokaw.