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Why Shakespeare wrote something about how beauty lies in the eye of the beholder is beyond me. Because, five centuries later, his literary injection of self-serving individualism continues to be used liberally by the ugly to defend the ugly. May be I’m being too harsh. But a miscarriage of aesthetic justice such as this wrongly implies an open door policy that suggests anything goes, everyone’s invited, anybody will be welcomed.

Because when people complain that it’s so hard to get ads noticed these days, they forget that good design — a function of beauty — is not a choice that is governed by varying, independent tastes. Instead, it is hardwired into our brains through biological programming, administered by hypersonic circuits, and shaped and reinforced by natural selection over thousands of years. People naturally gravitate towards the beautiful. Not out of choice. But out of instinct.

Nancy Etcoff, author of Survival of the Prettiest, writes: “Good looking people are more likely to win arguments… persuade others… get away with anything from shoplifting to cheating at exams… attractive people tend to be more confident… more likely to think they’re in control…(W)e expect attractive people to be better at everything from piloting a jet plane to making love… (F)or practically any positive quality, people will assume that good-looking people have more of it, do it better and enjoy it more….”  Likewise, founder of US-based Artificial Intelligence, Marvin Minsky, says all human cultures are beauty cultures. Apart from being attractive to the eye, beauty neutralises. The sight of beauty tells the mind to stop evaluating, selecting, criticising. And start acting.

Design, which is best defined as 98% common sense and 2% aesthetics, is an open door to basic attraction. Paulina Poriskova, once billed as the most beautiful woman in the world during her modelling career, was quick to point out that the hype is a result of the distance between her features being mathematically desirable — unless her mom made love to an inch-tape.

The perception of beauty, its logic and its flawless absolutes, applies to people as well as things. Norio Ohga, then CEO & chairman of Sony, explained that they didn’t see themselves as a technological company but rather as being in the design business: “At Sony, we assume all products of our competitors will have basically the same technology, price, performance and features. Design is the only thing that differentiates one product from another in the marketplace.”

Michael Newman of the international ideas consultancy, Brandnewman, agrees: “Flowers don’t attract bees with a list of their pollen’s attributes.” Tom Peters adds: “Design is advantage… (it) is wildly under-appreciated as a strategic opportunity… especially in service firms.” Similarly, Christoper Lorenz wrote: “No longer can comparative advantage be sustained for long (in the marketplace). The design dimension is no longer an optional part of the marketing and corporate strategy, but should be at their very core.”

In Marketing Aesthetics, Bernd, Schmitt and Alex Simonson devote chapters to concepts like “managing aesthetic experiences,” “aesthetics strategy,” and “mapping strategic vision to sensory stimuli.” They talk about the look, feel, sound, taste, texture, colour and smell, and fold it into the vividly singular and pleasurable brand “experience.” Proving that these are no longer disparate presentation and packaging issues, but core advertising considerations.

The point is that your ad is one of your brand’s ambassadors. Send it out into the world clean and chiseled, beautifully dressed and in good humour. Not harrowed in detail and obsessed with itself. Not ridiculed with graphic distractions and irregular elements. Consumers consume advertising with their eyes. If your ads are sharp, clear and confident of success, then so is your brand. Professor Robert Hayes at Harvard Business School doesn’t doubt the importance of design either: “Fifteen years ago, companies competed on price. Today it’s quality. Tomorrow it’s design.”

Good design is the architecture of beauty. Beautiful surroundings, beautiful things and beautiful people suggest a sense of arrival, a willing ownership based on the all too human hypothesis that The Beautiful is also The Good. If it works for people, then it works for the advertising people consume. By policing and promoting beauty there will be no dearth of rewards as Anthony Patch, the glamorous character in F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s novel, The Beautiful and Damned, upheld when he declared, “The victors belong to the spoils.”

More proof, with due apologies to John Keats, that a thing of beauty is a ploy forever.

 

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