Do you love the means or the end?

I work in an industry in love with the means. That is to say, advertising, in general, is all about the campaign, the execution, the tagline, the :30 second spot. And there’s plenty of historical and industry reasons for that. Advertising is the medium of the masses. It grew out of new technology – the newspaper, the radio, the television – all of which were revolutionary in terms of achieving reach and all perfect opportunities for the best messages (read: means) to thrive.

But all of these technologies were necessarily and practically disconnected from the end-goal. It has always been hard to tie something as specific as sales to something as broad as a Super Bowl commercial. The result is an industry built around means to an end, rather than the end itself.

I know I’m certainly not alone in my uneasiness with statements like one I recently overheard from the creative director at a big agency who said, “the insight comes from the idea.” Basically, he meant the idea, the execution, the means is king. Everything else comes after.

Maybe it’s my inherent Midwesterness, perhaps it has to do with being raised in an engineer’s household, but I’m uncomfortable with action without a direct correlation to outcome. The idea of correlation instead of causation irks my better demons.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

After, therefor because of.

That’s the way my industry works right now. I make a kick-ass campaign. I make it live. A month later, sales are up. Must have been because of my campaign, right? After all, the increase in sales followed my executions, there must be a correlation, right?

Maybe. But in a world where a person can experience a pre-roll add, check my brand out in social, search and on Amazon, but something and, possibly, write a review all in the palm of their hand, all while waiting for a latte, is maybe good enough? Is it good enough to be correlative? Is it good enough to be in love with the means when the end has never been more measurable?

I realize I’m probably shouting into the void here. I know there’s lots of talk about Big Data and new ways of measuring in the world and in my industry. But it seems to me that advertisers are communication designers. So often we design communication around an idea and hope we can measure later. But what if we began designing around the end and let the idea come from there? What if we put what we are trying to achieve ahead of how we want to achieve it?

What if, as an industry, we changed the way we work and the things we love and finally started to care more about the end than the means?

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