Great Creative: Stephen Foster, Rachel Fannan, and Canon

I browsed a few lead-generation company websites yesterday and found several selling the idea of “scientific” methods to determine design and other creative aspects of marketing. While it’s true that scientific study of aesthetics does reveal general rules about universal concepts of beauty, these companies argue that you’re wasting your money employing talented creative artists on commercial marketing because such artists only make “assumptions” about what people like or what moves them.

That’s nonsense. There are certainly some common sense factors that help creative work achieve marketing goals, but great paintings that captivate us, songs that bring tears to our eyes, literature that transports us — all originate within the mind of the creator through some gift, some special and intuitive sense of that which pleases most, if not all of us.

Grey Advertising in New York aptly demonstrates the power of excellent creative with its latest television ad for Canon Camera’s Rebel T4i. The visuals are typically high quality — tongue-in-cheek footage of Rebel T4i owners in search of inspired imagery – but it’s the arresting soundtrack that makes this spot captivate viewers, and I challenge any lead generation firm to demonstrate how its “proven mathematical formulas” could possibly be applied to achieve this sort of effort in the absence of raw, creative talent.

The ad is set to the song “Beautiful Dreamer,” written by “Father of American Music” Stephen Foster, who in the mid 1800’s composed countless enduring songs, among them “Oh Susanna” and “My Old Kentucky Home.” The song’s original, simple, yet haunting lyrics and melody ride on the arpeggio-based backdrop — dosed with just the right amount of modern indie treatment.

The vocals are handled by more-than-capable, up-and-coming California musician Rachel Fannan — a multi-talented pianist-guitarist-vocalist whose work often evokes the dreaminess of 60’s surf music with the emotional interpretive power of Linda Ronstadt. It is Fannan’s performance combined with Foster’s musical genius that transforms this spot from typical to truly standout advertising.

If there is a mathematical formula that any John or Jane Doe can apply to produce such results, I’d sure like to see it. In the meantime, don’t throw out data and research — they have great value — but don’t for one second think that either offers the ultimate answers to powerful advertising, great literature, classic music or artistic masterpieces that do emotionally move the vast majority of us.

Even the lead generators concede there is an extremely strong emotional component behind many of our purchasing decisions. You may statistically uncover which artistic elements best stimulate those emotions, but you will never create gripping, arresting, creative advertising from formulas and statistics alone. You’ll always need help from the artistically gifted.

Jan-11-2013, Update From The Author:

Fifteen days after the article (above) was filed, the attention-getting Canon commercial spawned the release of a full, albeit different, version of “Beautiful Dreamer.”

I still believe Canon would benefit from allowing/funding a full release of the song as treated in the commercial. Fannan’s version is beautifully done, but it is without percussion and has a more traditional vocal interpretation.

On the TV track, a snare drum punches simple accents and a lonely back-beat, lending a commercially-counter-intuitive dirge-like quality. So why does it work so well? Because composer Stephen Foster often wrote songs about deceased women or lovers? Maybe. But it really works simply because it feels just right.


Fannan’s Beautiful Dreamer full version from WTTWest’s YouTube channel.