January 17, 2017

Meet Me at the Corner of Art & Science

corner-art-science.jpgThe U.S. Constitution is a remarkably prescient document. It’s also highly malleable. Imagine trying to run a 21st century company using a business plan drafted in 1787. But even with all the advancements in technology, sociology and virtually every other -ology in the last 230 years, the Constitution still functions as a blueprint for our dizzyingly complex society.

Take, for example, Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, aka the “copyright clause.” It reads: “The Congress shall have power to promote the progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

Now That’s Great Copywriting

There, in just 32 words, the Constitution provided an incentive for entrepreneurs to share their innovations in a way that benefits both them (“exclusive right”) and the general public (“limited Times”).

It’s effective, obviously, for protecting the rights of “authors” and “inventors” in the traditional sense (e.g., those who write novels or devise new hardware). But it also provides effective protection in areas where the lines have blurred in ways the founding fathers could not have foreseen — such as social media posts and software programs.

As technology has evolved, the two key phrases in the copyright clause — “Science” and “useful Arts” — have remained conceptually intertwined but have basically switched meanings. In the eighteenth century, “Science” meant information while “useful Arts” meant manufactured goods. In the 21st century, “Science” evokes technology such as tablets while “useful Arts” could now be a quaint synonym for intellectual property.

So what does all this have to do with Programmatic Direct Mail®? A lot, actually.

Mad Men with Smartphones

Advertising is the ultimate intersection of art and science. Fifty years ago, in the Mad Men era, it was clear where the emphasis lay. Advertising was called the art of persuasion, not the science of persuasion. Storytelling and image-making were the keys to a successful campaign.

The problem was, if the campaign wasn’t successful, it was hard to figure out why because the science was inexact. Analytics don’t work on gut instincts.

More recently, during the surge of venture capital-fueled technology, science gained the upper hand. Big data ruled. Click rate mattered more than response rate. There was a race to the bottom of the funnel.

And too often storytelling and image-making — the art — got lost in the digital shuffle.

Now we’re seeing signs that the pendulum is swinging back again. That’s to be expected; advances in any industry tend to result in a brief period of overreliance on new technology, often with regrettable results. (When it first came out, the Moog Synthesizer resulted in some of the most embarrassingly bad popular music ever recorded.) Then the infatuation passes, and that industry refocuses on its core mission.

I think that’s starting to happen in this space. Yes, venture capital and computing advances powered a surge in big data, computational speeds, natural language processing and smart machines. But that was merely the foundation for the next great advance — not the advance itself.

Now we’ve reached a point where we’re ready to use that new foundation to build something more advanced than direct response advertising. It’s time to start climbing back up the funnel toward greater consideration and awareness. Toward delivering the right message in the right channel to the right person at the right time.

To do that, we have to further blur the lines in the time-honored copyright clause. We have to consider science when shaping a marketing message, and refine the art of developing data segments to find and engage consumers at scale.

Art and science. Science and art. When they’re woven together smartly and creatively in advertising, the winners are marketers, publishers and consumers.

At PebblePost, we couldn’t be happier to be a part of this evolutionary process. Having created a revolutionary new marketing channel through Programmatic Direct Mail®, we know we have the science right. But we’re also focused on getting the art right. That’s just what the Constitution intended: to form a more perfect union between the heart and the mind.


Adam Solomon is VP Product at PebblePost. His diverse background includes stints as an aerospace engineer and patent attorney with a Master's in intellectual property law, plus 20 years in consumer media and marketing. That’s given him both an abstract and a practical perspective on Programmatic Direct Mail®.