Ben Kay on why context matters

With so many options for where your ad might sit today, it can be hard to predict the context of how the audience will see it. But, as Ben Kay points out, this info can be vital for how you make it

I’m reading a book called How Music Works by David Byrne (yes, the David Byrne from Talking Heads).

The first chapter is called Creation in Reverse, and its second sentence contains a fascinating insight that can be transferred to advertising: ‘…context largely determines what is written, painted, sculpted, sung or performed’.

David concedes that this doesn’t really seem particularly earth-shattering, but he goes on to point out that it actually expresses the opposite of what we generally believe to be true of creation: that it is an internal process of inspiration, motivation, expression etc, which is then put out into the world to find its place.

Instead, David suggests that we create with the context in mind. The example he gives is that of the legendary New York music venue, CBGB. Its low ceiling and uneven walls allowed for excellent sound absorption, while its close-in bar meant that people tended to talk and shout near the stage.

David was aware of all of this when he wrote his songs, so he knew that small details would not get lost, but also that the overall expression had to be loud enough to cut through the chatter. He may not have been conscious of those influences, but they were always somewhere in the back of his mind, altering decisions both major and minor.

Advertising creativity follows the same process, but within a context that has changed a great deal in recent years.