Creativity In A Viral Age

A mad chase for eyeballs sounds like a gruesome task on some celebrity reality show. But is it a possible fate awaiting advertising? Maybe, according to this blog post by Nick Hammond on The Wall. Hammond asks some interesting – and familiar – questions about the relationship between analytics and creativity. It’s sparked by a recent launch of a product claiming to predict the viral potential of advertising, and if that sounds familiar, it might be because we at BrainJuicer also have a technique that predicts viral potential.

These kind of tools worry Hammond – are they going to kill creativity? He’s concerned that they’ll lead advertising online down the kind of paths journalism has gone – a chase for eyeballs and traffic spikes which many journalists complain has devalued creativity and skill.

This isn’t just a bit of artisanal preciousness – there’s a real worry about short-termism. If you want your ad to “go viral”, then “how?” is a great question, but “why?” is a better one.

It may seem odd that I’m sympathising with Hammond’s worries. They reflect a tension between creatives and analytics which is decades-old, and in general researchers have been on the side of the numbers. But because we know emotion is so important in advertising, we know creativity is vital too. On the other hand, tools for measuring and predicting sharing aren’t suddenly going to vanish – they’re only going to get more important as they improve.

So here are a couple of – hopefully reassuring for creative types – thoughts about ‘virality testing’.

The first is that you can build useful measures which keep creativity, imagination and experiment very much alive. At BrainJuicer we focus on emotion, rather than any more prescriptive “rules” about content (“It has to have celebrities!”). Surprise and happiness are what drives sharing, we believe. And what sparks those emotions is up to the advertiser. It’s not fixed – in fact the nature of surprise is that it can’t be fixed.

And the second thought is that it’s probably a bad idea to see virality as a goal in itself. If you’re going to test for it, test for it as part of a broader view of an ad’s effectiveness. That way you get an idea of what all those millions of extra eyeballs might actually do for your business.

(To learn more about our approach to advertising and virality, check out our webinar next month.)

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