Ever seen a celebrated painting or read a popular book and thought to yourself, “eh”?

Most of us have. I bring this up because recently a question came up at 90. It went a little something like, “Is creativity subjective?” The short answer is yes.

On one hand, you have cold hard fact. Imagine…an animal. Let’s say a peacock for example. Upon seeing it, light hits the retina, transforming the image into electrical impulses that are carried to the brain. Your eye processes the information in front of it and you see what appears in reality.

On the other hand, you have opinion. Let’s head back to the zoo for a moment. In our peacock scenario, the eye isn’t working alone. The brain is its constant companion. And when the eye and the mind analyze the same stimuli, an individual’s emotions, past experiences and cognitive biases infiltrate the scene, transforming the simple “retelling” of an experience into a personal assessment.

For instance, an individual raised in a Catholic home might envision the high, vaulted ceiling of a chapel when shown the word “congregate” since it’s the verb derivative of “congregation,” meaning a group of believers. When presented with the same word however, someone coming of age in the 1970s might be reminded of Nixon’s Watergate scandal. (Due to the rhyming last syllables of “congregate” and “Watergate.”) And this is just one example. The interpretations are endless.

In case you were wondering, these associations are caused by what’s called the “availability heuristic” in behavioral economics. This rule says that whatever associations are the most quickly accessed by the brain will have the biggest influence on an individual’s perception. So you can see how easy it is for art, food and film critics to come to different conclusions on the very same thing.

Aside from the memories we each possess; cultural context also has a lot to do with our perceptions of quality and desirability. Take a look at America’s collective unconscious. Because of the nation’s radical origin story, citizens place inordinate value on youth and experimentation; an outlook which directly affects the rise and fall of trends, how we respond to social change and how fast U.S. businesses innovate.

So, yes. Creativity is subjective. Like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The key to developing evocative campaigns, whether you’re a client or an agency professional, is to scrub out your own (unhelpful) subjectivity—and adopt the headspace of your prospects. Think about your audiences’ POV. Consider their socioeconomic status, their aspirations and their daily stresses. With interpersonal experience out of the way, it’s easier to design communications that shape buyer perception, driving revenue and brand affinity.

Need a team that understands creative inside and out? Write us.

When the eye and the mind analyze the same stimuli, an individual’s emotions, past experiences and cognitive biases infiltrate the scene, transforming the simple “retelling” of an experience into a personal assessment.

About the Author

Marly Beste

Senior Storyteller

A tenured copywriter, Marly specializes in verbal strategy and brand voice development. Out of the office, she’s an incessant champion of her family’s happiness and regularly pens vignettes inspired by magical realism and nonsense literature. As she puts it, “I didn’t choose writing. It chose me.”