Programmers Are Creatives, Not Just Creative

There’s a debate simmering between Synergists who believe in the power of combining art and science, and Unbundlers who believe in decoupling programming under the banner of efficiency. At the heart of the deliberation is whether programming is a creative endeavor similar to copywriting and art-direction, or an industrial process like printing, fulfillment and assembly.

Increasingly, agencies and brands are partnering — sometimes competing — with software vendors and consulting companies that are hoping to capitalize on the explosive growth of  digital marketing. While agencies offer creative services that make brands stand-out, consultants provide “marketing automation tools” to help save money. For example, Adobe, Accenture, and Deloitte have organized around providing multi-channel campaign management and media montization — reducing marketing to a dashboard experience for brand stakeholders.

While it’s true, technology will make it easier to automate some aspects of what agencies do, it’s important to know that programming, when done correctly, is a craft that drives brand success just like art-direction and copywriting. Fact is, there’s an important technical story behind most of the thousands of awards R/GA won since 1977 including the first, the Academy Award for technical achievement. Today, one doesn’t need to look far to realize most big ideas come from people with a strong technical sensibility.  From Kevin Systrom to Markus Persson, the best technically minded people are out of the box thinkers who know what customers want.

It’s not just about “big ideas” either. Undbundlers may be missing the fact programmers shape and inform how brand promise is expressed.  Copying code is like copying a logo because javascript, CSS and HTML, done well, express brand attributes like taglines and typefaces. In many respects, programmers are the art directors and copywriters of the digital age; today programming/copy/art teams are receiving the same attention Bill Bernbach and Bob Gage paid to the revolutionary copy/art “team” concept in 1949.

How does all this apply in the current digital marketing environment? Here are four tips for maximizing creative team synergy:

  • hire programmers that work well with copywriters and art directors
  • make sure programmers are seated side by side with art directors, copywriters and interaction designers
  • invite programmers to comment on creative briefs
  • make code the deliverable — even if it’s reference code

As digital marketing evolves some banal programming tasks can certainly be automated, all the same, it’s important to challenge complete unbundling because good coders are creatives — just like copywriters and art directors.