In many posts past I have tried to explain some of the elements, which have helped cut down advertising’s potential to be more persuasive. Largely, in my view, it is the imposition of systems throughout our technology-driven lives which has made advertising, ineffective and in many ways patronizing. Our lives and our eras are forever themed and the general theme today is technology.
Kim Vicente, in THE HUMAN FACTOR*, offers a brilliant assessment of how technology has failed to recognize the human factor in its headlong rush to develop itself.
Vicente has done much to ease the effects of wanton technology development within the aircraft milieu. Some aircraft are now completely computerized, and airmanship has been replaced in some cases with typing skills. In fact pilots have been known to exclaim, “I can’t fly anymore, but I can type 50 words a minute”. The physical aspects of control in some aircraft have also changed, with no physical connection between control column and flying surfaces such as flaps and ailerons. These have been replaced with, basically, telephone wire attached to little servo motors near the control surfaces. Can you imagine pushing the stick sideways to bank a turn and hearing a little voice saying, “I’m away from my aileron right now, but if you leave your name, the date and the reason for your call I’ll get back to you as soon as I can”. Meanwhile the Matterhorn or a giant Burger King sign is growing larger in your windshield. What’s next? The flight display indicating that one should proceed to the crash site?
Well, you can see the value of Vicente’s point about technology’s need for a human counterpoint.Vicente’s solution is something called Human-tech, the rational acknowledgement of the importance of the human factor in technological design. Vicente, an engineer, breaks the human factor and technology factor into five relationships. His approach calls for the application of systems-thinking to all problems involving the human element. This is an interesting book, but in a way it reminds me of the old saw (sorry): To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. My concern is with the way technology has insinuated itself into our lives. We have always had systems. But we have not always thought that we needed systems for everything or that everything was a system. I suppose we can argue that systems do comprise everything we do. We can also say a dog is a system but my dog to me is a pal who likes to pee on a tree.
But it is the religiosity and fervour of the idea by its scientifically-oriented proponents that I find disturbing. It seems to discount the power of individual thought in any attempt at solving problems, giving strength to systems thinking, while denigrating individual dynamics. Individual dynamics might simply be superb airmanship. The Air France AirBus that went down off Brazil may have been a simple failing in airmanship.
But the very premise and the consideration of Kim Vicente’s Human Factor takes it far from the thinking behind technocracy, and deals realistically with the overwhelming influences technology is exerting upon us. To his credit Kim Vicente has put out a wake-up call. My concern, of course, is how systems thinking affects the way persuasive advertising ideas are created.
Fortunately, we are beginning to see reaction from progressive elements of the advertising community with the emergence of small, simply-ordered, creative partnerships, sans retinues, and with very close associations with clients who are themselves unencumbered with technological paraphenalia and jargon. If they can resist the technological siren call of perceived knowhow and remain small, they will survive.
The advertising business is a simple business and self conscious because of it. It is the art of persuasion and the generation of ideas is its work. Media is transport. The death of commission and the rise of fee has required agencies to staff up with fee generators, and to acquire systems which can give a perception of prowess. Rational linear systems like account planning have reduced creatives to being highly paid cake decorators. What is required are bright creative minds which can roam the realm of the unexpected and relate findings to specific problems.
The schooled creative mind is a bright mind’s thinking tamed. It plods into its problem, satchel full of things it knows, ticking off its checklist as a pilot would, disciplined, methodical, incisive, systemitized, hoping to find a truth.
The feral creative mind, in panic to find a truth, jumps back and forth, turning over stones, sniffing the air, all at once, up and down, a niggling doubt removed, another rising, something far away related, something not, a howl in the night, until, through all the crumpled paper in a cluttered mind a light is struck that’s soon so bright a problem fades, and a feral creative mind can live another day. We need more of these feral minds.
Goodbye, good luck and don’t forget the nuance.