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You have to work on something that makes you uncertain. Something that makes you doubt yourself. If you know where you’re going, you’re gone, as the poet says. And that’s death. —Steven Sondheim

We used to know what an idea was. There was no disagreement on this. We didn’t have to debate it. It was common knowledge. Its father was insight. Its mother was talent. Born of the two, what took shape was something that attached itself to our way of seeing the world. It got us to think. It got us to feel. 1984. Google. John Lewis. Fearless Girl. These were human truths. These were ideas. No one contested this.

But, of course, that was before big data and AI and TikTok and Zuckerberg. That was before platforms were synonymous with concepts. Suddenly, a thirteen-year-old in a tube top and mascara thick as mud gyrating on TikTok was every bit an idea as a blonde in red shorts hurling a hammer at a giant screen in front of a thousand mindless automatons. That was before the cancel-creative-culture police decided to erase anyone who still refuses to accept that an idea is anything they damn well say it is.

So who’s right? To help us find out, I’ve invited the two biggest combatants in this battle to a creative cage match. That’s right: Brain vs. Heart. Data vs. Intuition. Algorithm vs. Emotion.

Brain: You are such a hypocrite, heart. You’re always so quick to say data should keep its nose out of the creative process, and yet…

Heart: I said no such thing. I’m all for data that inspires a human insight. But beyond that, it sucks the life out of creativity.

Brain: I believe you once said that fashion advertising wouldn’t know an idea if one jumped up and bit it in the face.

Heart: That’s true.

Brain: And that’s because it, what, doesn’t fit into your little headline/visual box?

Heart: Not at all. It’s because very little of fashion advertising is based on anything but a supermodel who you will never look like wearing clothes you will never afford.

Brain: It’s called aspiration.

Heart: It’s called empty calories.

Brain: You really don’t have any idea how out of touch you are, do you?

Heart: And you really don’t have any idea what a miserable failure that whole crowdsourcing thing was.

Brain: You’re putting that on me?

Heart: I am.

Brain: You know, the problem with you is that you’re still clinging to a world that doesn’t exist anymore. The consumer insights are outdated. The media ecosystem is radically different. Half those ads that you thought were so great were literally forced in front of the consumer by paid media weight. Talk about the walking dead.

Heart: Maybe so. But those ads were born of an idea. A freaking concept.

Brain: There’s your problem. You have such a narrow idea of what makes a concept. Your definition is archaic. It’s from a different time. There was no such thing as TikTok. Instagram didn’t exist. Facebook had a fraction of the reach it has today. Netflix was still a DVD in a red envelope instead of the entertainment giant it is now. Must I go on?

Heart: So you’re saying TikTok is an idea.

Brain: What else would you call it?

Heart: Um, a platform?

Brain: So a platform isn’t an idea to you.

Heart: It’s a business idea, not an advertising idea.

Brain: OK, let’s try this. If an ad sells a gajillion whatzits, is it a good idea?

Heart: Not necessarily.

Brain: So if an ad does what it’s supposed to do, it’s not a good idea?

Heart: An idea can be effective without being creatively good. Those are two different things. Of course, we all want to do work that’s both creatively amazing and effective too. And the fact is, most of what I’d call creatively amazing also happens to be amazingly effective. A great idea can do both.

Brain: So it’s all intuition with you, right?

Heart: I never said that. I love data; I just don’t love it trying to dictate the shape of an idea. Feed me facts. I’m cool with that. But when it’s time for me to think, get out of the room and leave me alone.

Brain: You’re wrong.

Heart: No, you’re wrong.


Well, there you have it. So what do you think? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Email me at ernie.schenck@gmail.com and let me know what you think. I’ll post your votes on my Facebook and LinkedIn pages in the not too distant future. ca

Ernie Schenck (ernieschenckcreative.prosite.com) is a freelance writer, a creative director and a regular contributor to CA’s Advertising column. An Emmy finalist, three-time Kelley nominee and a perennial award winner—the One Show, Clios, D&AD, Emmys and Cannes—Schenck worked on campaigns for some of the most prestigious brands in the world in his roles at Hill Holliday/Boston, Leonard Monahan Saabye and Pagano Schenck & Kay. He lives with his wife and daughter in Jamestown, Rhode Island.

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