I was aghast to read recently that Australia and Japan are slowly phasing out social sciences and introducing coding in schools. But, on reflection, it didn't seem so strange. Even as we attempt to make computers as 'human' as possible, the opposite trend - turning humans into more machine-like entities - is also progressing apace. And an important element of this is quantification. Just as machines recognise things in terms of the simple binary '1' and '0', people too are now told that QUANTIFICATION IS EVERYTHING!!!
For example, Mr. Blake Edwards, Hollywood producer, decided that no lyrical Shakespearean fluff would do justice to Bo Derek's pulchritude. It deserved - nay, demanded - the certainty of a number, and Edwards gave it the number '10' and launched the enchanting Ms. Derek in an eponumerical (if I might coin a term) film. And ten was to henceforth represent the ultimate in female allure. It was also in America that another metric for oomph was created: the enduring 36-24-36. Enduring that is, until yet another number size 'zero' made this string theory of attractiveness redundant.
And, if this numerological disorder has singed beauty so badly, is it any wonder that it has burnt communication to a crisp? It began with TV ratings. Everyone said the sample wasn't large enough, especially for low viewership programmes; how one should be very wary of defining viewer profiles with such sample sizes and so on. And yet, people bowed and prayed to the ratings gods they made.
Because they were 'MEASURES'!
Once media had been conquered, it was only a matter of time before creative territories were annexed. Enter the arithmetic of Procurement. So now we have a bean counter, who may not be able to tell the difference between an artwork and a slice of pizza, comparing advertising agency capabilities by numbers, and evaluating 'commercial bids' - just like buying sheets of corrugated iron, eh?!
But, the tyranny of 'measuring what can be measured' extends further. Because, by now, the brand manager is too terrified to do anything that does not have a sheaf of numbers to support it. So, he turns to 'normative' benchmarks to decide if a TV commercial is good enough to air. And measures, of course, cover only the things that are measurable: what % 'got' your main message, how many expressed any 'dislikes' with it, what was its 'Try score' and so forth - which is how I guess TVCs with people leaping out and questioning you about the sodium chloride and charcoal dust in your dentifrice get through.
"But what about emotions???" I ask. "Naah Andy, we can't measure them."
'Can't', so let us ignore them, shall we? (I hope to, someday, lock up these people in a room and refuse to let them out until they understand Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, that 'for any... system, there will always be statements ... that are true, but that are unprovable within the system').
However, my view has less to do with whether we can and more to do with the conviction that we SHOULDN'T try to measure everything, and look at the results in numbers. To be sure, numbers have their uses; for instance, in figuring out how much money to hand over for a pair of argyle socks. But, I believe, they fail in matters when emotions are important - which is most of the time! And if there is one thing I believe, it is that emotions float the human boat. The logic of analysis is the platform from which relevant creative work emerges. We put things ass to front when we apply the tools of preparation, in a creative exercise, to measuring the results.
What does Nike's 'Better For It' tell you about its products? Against which films will you benchmark Gisele Bundchen's 'I will what I want' Under Armour film? What is the credibility of Nike's 'Good vs Evil' TVC? Would Apple's '1984' TVC have made it through the benchmarking system?
Unlikely, because you can't measure the emotional effect; except with your own emotional response. And I will sit this one out, if you try to measure Madhubala's smile in lumens. Or attempt to work out the heat transfer co-efficient of a blush.
I will just go with what my heart tells me.