Objective Beauty — A marketing enquiry on corporate communication
Can we conceive beauty as an objective parameter — and thus achieve corporate communication goals— or is it merely subjective and out of an agency’s understanding?
At the end of the day, digital communication centres around two main goals: to pass a message on the audience effectively and beautifully.
From a business perspective, marketing agencies serve this purpose, that is to help their customers widen their reach, convert new leads and retain the already-acquired ones. This requires a certain creative verve, which — together with the algorithmic expertise about the search engines — makes up a great deal of the marketing strategy and represents the battleground where different agencies fight each other to secure the next contracts.
Corporate communication is a result of all these efforts, the magnificent idea to personify the customer company, to treat it as a single unit with beautiful, gorgeous, kind and trendy features, according to the initial character of the business — or, why not, reinventing it completely. Blatantly, the effort is to be always updated on the newest trends, social challenges, communication means and media, and so on, and to keep an eye on how targets perceive the message — that is not only how they receive it, but also how they process it and what they make out of it.
But what is that little component, that je ne sais quoi that catches us when we’re faced with an artistic output, business and non-business? The feeling of having fun, chuckling, being astonished or captured… Well, I believe it does not come down only to the perception of the individual, as marketing teaches us. Rather, it’s built around the effectiveness of the output given by a solid creative chain behind it. That is, the basis of what’s perceived as beautiful — or that is actually beautiful, points of view, pun intended. ’Cause yes, we can break down beauty into something done well.
Is Beauty truly subjective?
In a great Ted Talk, Anjan Chatterjee explores this possibility, explaining how “beautiful” is an evolutionary characteristic, evolved through the millennia mankind has been on Earth and subject to evolutionary laws, such as the selection of certain characteristics over others for the conservation of the species, especially the sexual selection (Darwin’s second greatest insight).
The most blatant example is that of the peacock’s tail. The tail does not present any feature apt for survival. If anything, it actually helps predators to localise the peacock and strike. However, in the same fashion, it helps the peacock to be noticed by the peahen and to be the preferred choice for mating, passing on its genes to the next generation and ensuring the survival of the species and its legacy.
As shown in the graph below — taken from Dr Chatterjee’s presentation — we can statistically assess the development of the preference for a given feature in a certain population:
Here, we have 3 groups of people who have preferences for 3 different colours: green, orange and red. Let’s assume that although these have nothing to do with health, just with preference in a different characteristic. But this is strictly connected to the different likelihood of producing offspring, with a ration of 3:2:1, respectively for green, orange and red. This means that in the next generation we would have 3 greens, 2 oranges and 1 red and in something like 10 generations, 98% of this population would have a green preference.
This tells us that inherited preferences for certain features over others can be shared among different individuals, they can become universal (98% is a very large proportion of the population).
Now, at this point you might ask: “wait, how does this relate to the artificial artistic preferences for man-made artefacts?” Well, for this we have to navigate to another incredibly interesting Ted Talk, by philosopher Denis Dutton, on what we might call the “attraction” for pieces of art, whether it’s music, movies, photos, sculptures or whatnot.
The premise is the same: beauty follows the rules of evolution, with a keen eye on the Darwinian sexual selection. But there’s more. After all, is art really necessary for the genetic survival of a species? Yes, the peacock uses a truly artistic appendix to ensure companionship, but that is part of its body, not an artefact.
However, it is not about art per se: it is the process of creation of art and the creator’s skills behind it that makes him/her more preferable in the eyes of a potential companion.
Datton uses the example of the Acheulian axes. First found in St. Acheul in France, they were then spotted all around Asia, Europe and Africa. The features of the artefacts, the delicate blade edges, the symmetry, the material, the lack of evidence for the use as a tool, even the size in some cases, the craftsmanship, they all lead to the conclusion that these were indeed not tools, they did not have any functional use.
Rather, they were a means of exhibiting the creator’s intelligence, skills, craftsmanship, all qualities linked to preferrable tribesmen over less skilled, less clever ones. The ability to craft, hence, becomes a true means of showing off to potential companions, to be chosen for mating against other competitors and pass on one’s legacy — and so, as the example we saw before, to pass on their skills and preferences as well.
Dutton explains it clearly: “For us moderns, virtuoso technique is used to create imaginary worlds in fiction and in movies, to express intense emotions with music, painting and dance. But still, one fundamental trait of the ancestral personality persists in our aesthetic cravings: the beauty we find in skilled performances.” Which we can summarise in a few words:
“We find beauty in something done well.”
Ok, but what does this have to do with marketing?
Statistically, this applies to the majority of human beings, meaning the very majority of consumers in a given market appreciates what is done nicely rather than not. However, differently from our ancestors the production and creative chain behind a product it’s not so direct.
The role of communication activities, as we said in the beginning, is that of presenting an artefact, a service, even better an idea, effectively and beautifully. The two are strictly correlated though, since the more beautifully it is presented the more effective the activity is.
Corporates know this and invest in marketing to present their ideas as a single entity, a person at your service, wishing you the best and promising a great experience through their services. Together with specialist agencies, they create literal little pieces of art to communicate their ideas.
Just give a look to this Amazon ad, for instance:
We all know the reputation that Amazon built — especially in the last few years. And still, we can’t help but appreciate the skilful video making and editing, the idea conception, the narrative, even the lack of aggressive use of logos and brand colours. We can safely say that this is beautiful.
An Optimist Conclusion
The greatest thing about beauty and its evolutionary nature is that we, as a species, had much space to change our standards through time, both in the appreciation of fellow humans and in art.
Paradoxically, it is an artificial construct that made us appreciate and perceive nature in multiple different ways. I’m talking about technology and all its implications and evolutions, the way it affected and it is affecting our lives and our tastes.
Today, we have what is possibly the most inclusive conception of beauty, which gives both marketers and consumers wide opportunities to appreciate and evaluate different strategic decisions when it comes to marketing a concept — more than a product or a service.
New technologies helped us reach art and artworks more easily and a more open society introduced different beauty standards, not only as a matter of sensitisation, but as true and even appreciation of natural beauty.
Understanding how this — even this current and constant conceptual evolution — can be statistically applied to the very majority of the target audience is key for the industry and is key for the evolution of a winning corporate communication.