Marketing: Science or Art?

Discussion: Is marketing science or art?

The science/art marketing debate began in the Journal of Marketing in 1945, where Paul D. Converse (a scientist) first explored marketing as a scientific business practice, stepping away from popular belief at the time.

Since then, both sides of the argument keep surfacing and opposing each other with what are (usually) plausible explanations to the claims. The classic advertising era would attribute marketing to art, where to the contrary, the digital era would attribute marketing to science. The arguments are still consistent and no "official" conclusion, if such conclusion could ever be achieved, to the debate is in view.

It is evident to me, however, that marketing indeed is part science and part art - it requires both and receives both from various disciplines who often sit on either side of the fence. So, before we look at the arguments, here are the formal definitions of each:

Science: "A branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws."

Art: "The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance."


Marketing's very purpose is to influence the behaviours of other people to bring those people closer to the parent brand, organisation, product or service.

Understanding behaviours, specifically from a psychology perspective, and studying how people react to certain stimuli, has become a focus for marketers in the last few decades. Certainly since the introduction of digital which has progressed the field of marketing to be more scientifically led with testing and experimentation common.

As marketers, we are looking to make our marketing campaigns more effective, and serve marketing messages which are more likely to be well received: To create an enduring bond (see the IKEA effect). If you can better understand those who you are looking to influence, their behaviours, habits and receptiveness to marketing messages, the more successful you will be.


If the goal of marketing is to create demand, the method is therefore, to appeal to others. Science can help determine the message to create this demand, but it cannot deliver it. The delivery of the core message to its audience is a key element that we can confidently attribute to art. To be successful in marketing is to make an emotional connection with the prospect or the customer. LinkedIn state that 50% of B2B buyers are more likely to purchase if they connect emotionally to a brand.

Art can form deep connections with prospects and customers by tapping into our most intimate needs. An artist knows how to craft campaigns that speak to an audience’s desires, fears, frustrations and other intangible qualities that make us human. Without artistic elements, campaigns will often lack the very essence that makes people take action.

In a previous post on pharma content examples, we highlight instances where pharma organisations have created highly emotional and highly creative content and why they are so good.


No marketing campaign comes without a dose of creativity. Creativity is required for the creation of unique and exceptional campaigns in the life sciences. The complex scientific elements of the products we deal with often need to be expressed, certainly as we are marketing to appeal to the emotions.

The creation of a website/web page, a video, a written article, e-book or a flyer all require the marketer to become creative, itself an art form. Not just in a design context, but also in the forming of the concept or idea. Before the introduction of digital, where offline advertising campaigns were the norm, it was all about the creative process; about the art and who could stand out the most.

Regarding the comparison of past times in the marketing and adverting industries, it is true, however, that this was a time where there was a lot of waste. Data wasn't there to dictate what worked and what didn't. You will be fully aware of the famous advertising quote by John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.”


Marketers of the twenty-first century are required to know which of Wanamaker's half is wasted. To look for proof. Creativity works and is highly important. How important? Can we prove that it is important? Usually, the answer is no.

A scientific element exists in the measurement of marketing performance. Mathematical questions are asked of campaigns where marketing professionals are expected to fully demonstrate how campaigns perform, and more importantly, understand the results from a spending perspective.

Such metrics are monitored not only to assess the performance but to make data-driven decisions on future campaigns further down the line. Hardly a characteristic of an artist. The artist is likely not to replicate something that worked well, but rather push the boundaries further with something more innovative. As a caveat, sometimes this isn't a bad thing.

For the scientific marketer, decisions are done by means of evidence, and the scientific marketer will collect this evidence at every opportunity. The scientific marketer not only has to use data, but interpret it from an unbiased viewpoint.


As with many marketing campaigns, branding and brand awareness looks to build rapport with our target audiences and generate attention. Branding allows marketers to create an image for the brand which may be taken into consideration if the target marketing is entering a purchasing decision or a sales cycle. It's hugely important but brand awareness is difficult to measure. It is often led by intuition rather than data.

A lead generation campaign via an email broadcast can immediately demonstrate ROI. But if the materials used within that campaign, such as the email template, the branded landing page and the well-designed downloadable e-book are not branded well, then the ROI of that lead generation campaign will likely decrease. The scientific marketer may not consider this. Also, the recipient may have already been exposed to branded materials before the lead generation campaign, perhaps offline, which may have contributed to a download and a successful conversion. We don't always know this.

Branding promotes authenticity and builds trust, which for the most, cannot always be measured (or at least not accurately). Effective branding is a highly artistic form which marketers - who often do not possess the knowledge of how to conduct effective brand campaigns - need for their organisations and campaigns.


As eluded to earlier, scientific marketers look for data. But even if the data might suggest otherwise, marketing campaigns do not happen in isolation. It is likely that recipients to marketing campaigns will also receive future marketing messages from the organisation, in some form. HubSpot state that 47% of B2B buyers consume three to five pieces of content before engaging with a sales representative, which dictates that marketers are likely to create more and more content.

What also appeals to the recipients of our marketing on one occasion may not for the next. We are marketing to people and people do not always behave rationally. Since marketing campaigns will happen continuously, often to the same recipients, marketers are required to alter the key messages of campaigns so that the campaigns do not become stale. Arguably, an art rather than science.

This said, the science will give us the indication that the campaigns need altering - data will tell us if a sequence within a campaign is generating poor results. Therefore, it can be argued, that the art is in the execution. Playing it safe won't lead to breakthrough campaigns. Marketers are required to take risks and push the boundaries, but this is very much the point: push the boundaries but do not cross. Creatives are more likely to cross this boundary.

The highly challenging pharma marketing industry has seen what happens if it doesn't become creative with its marketing. It becomes stagnant. Without art, you don’t end up with big campaign ideas that can truly connect with people around the world. You end up with repetitiveness.


Every marketing campaign or plan derives from a long period of situational analysis and strategic planning. To gauge what the market wants to be able to serve it in a way that has the best chance of success (even if you have to create campaigns similar to the previous ones). There is nothing artistic here.

In a romantic sense, a flawless marketing process from idea to execution is often considered "art" but in reality, there is nothing aesthetical about it. It's purely strategic. The same goes for the optimisation of a plan's performance across its chosen tactics and channels. Marketing is carried out following a liner process that looks at components separately, from setting objectives to selecting the strategic approach to determining the tactics to make the strategy happen, to ensure campaign success. Does art follow the same scrutiny? I'm guessing it's more intuitive.

There's nothing wrong with the intuition that comes from experience to dictate campaigns and to make the necessary changes to campaigns where required. Often to make sense of data; not always taking numbers at face value because the facts do not always speak for themselves. The scientist will say that data is stronger than intuition and gut instinct. In my opinion, for stand-out marketing, we need this conflict.

(This was never going to be a straight-forward discussion, but we are nearly there...)


Art versus science. Which does marketing best represent? This is an argument that often finds its way into university lecture theatres, marketing conferences and articles such as this one.

A paper by Stephen Brown (another scientist) in 2010, referencing Converse's initial observation, addresses the debate in the Journal of Marketing Management that may help you develop your conclusion. But, at least to me, it's clear that marketing is part science and part art. All marketing campaigns require both.

The science leads the campaigns to understand what is going on, and the art inspires its creation to deliver something appealing born from the initial understanding of the situation. If either of the processes are bypassed, the marketing campaign is likely to fail.

Art is the right side of the brain where the science is the left side - we need both sides of the brain to function properly. And we very much need both within our marketing operations - we need both to combat each other to get the best out of any possible campaign or organisation. In the same sense that, similarly, this conversation needs to happen within campaign teams. Tension breeds the best. The perfect marketing strategy balances creativity and analysis, intuition and data, emotions and logic.

As we began, let's finish with a clearer interpretation of the science and art definitions:

Science: "A branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws."

Art: "The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance."

Do you think marketing is a science or art?