Advertising: Research Vs. Creative

Louis Cheskin (pictured above reclining in his chair, mid-thought) was an innovative marketing researcher who spent most of his life advocating for the benefit of using research to determine successful packaging and advertising. In the 1930s, he founded the Color Research Institute of America in Chicago. He also authored many, many marketing books that are quite difficult to track down now (I’ve only managed to find three so far). In his books, Cheskin makes the claim that the success of advertising can be accurately determined beforehand through research, and it seems that he was renowned in his day for his accurate predictions and startling ROI. His research methods focused on analyzing the unconscious psychological responses of test audiences. In his writing, you can feel the utter contempt Cheskin had for the prevalent notion that advertising should value artistic merit foremost, and blamed bad advertising on creatives who tried to express themselves artistically instead of promoting the brand using quantifiable methods.

On the other hand, there is Luke Sullivan. Sullivan spent 32 years in the ad business at elite agencies like The Martin Agency and Fallon, was afterwards a professor of advertising for many years, and authored the popular advertising book “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This“. In his book, Sullivan takes the exact opposite stance from Cheskin. He found no merit in researching ad campaigns beforehand to determine their likelihood of success. Like Ogilvy before him, Sullivan found research a pesky thing that only created road blocks to his creativity. Instead, Sullivan advocates that ads should value creativity over profit; that even if an ad was successfully profitable, if it doesn’t have artistic merit then it should be thrown out. He states that the alternative would be a world full of annoying, soul-draining (though ultimately effective) ads.

Who was right? My inner artist wants to side with Sullivan; a world full of uncreative, uninteresting advertising seems terribly dull, and there is something special about an ad that transcends to become a work of art. But art at the cost of profit seems too high a price to pay. Cheskin valued applying the scientific method to advertising so that each move was calculated and precise, with results that were predictable. Even still, he recognized the value in ads also being creative, but only if creativity was used to make an advertisement more effective.

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