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Ask Jack: “Is advertising an art or a science?”

Jack So is the co-founder and ECD of So Fuk Yu, the mythical Hong Kong agency straight from the pages of Richard Tong’s critically acclaimed series of neon-noir novels. Here, he quells your concerns, solves your problems, and addresses the big issues with uncommon sense. Send your questions to for solutions without the sugar coating.

Dear Jack: People keep telling us what the future will be like. Yet, they don’t seem to agree. Who can I trust?

Gullible, Singapore.

The only thing less trustworthy than advertising, Gullible, is the evangelical bombast of digital maniacs. No one ever got rich and famous by suggesting that things won’t change. Listen to all, accept few, trust no one. Henry David Thoreau once said what lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.

Dear Jack: What is advertising in the 21st Century?

Analog, Malaysia.

Someone once said that advertising is 85% confusion, and 15% commission. That’s not true. Commissions are way under 5% now.

Dear Jack: What do you think of AI?

Cerebrus, Bangkok.

People have been faking their smartness since Adam was a boy. The internet, however, has made the artificiality of intelligence pandemic. Everyone thinks they’re an expert on everything when, in fact, they know nothing and can’t be told anything.

Fact is, in the closed world and kind-learning environments, AI has made great progress. In open, wicked-learning environments, AI has been poor. It’s great at playing chess and Jeopardy, where the answers are known or predictable. It’s not so good for curing cancer, where people still haven’t worked out what questions to ask. Read David Epstein’s Range if you want an intelligent view on intelligence, artificial or otherwise.

Dear Jack: Is advertising an art or a science?

Curious, Hong Kong.

Art is a function of culture. It draws attention to itself and seeks to increase its own value. Advertising is a function of commerce. It draws attention to something else and seeks to increase the value of other things.

Art doesn’t have a thesis, a strategy or a half-life. It doesn’t have to prove anything, or need an algorithm and a three-hour meeting to work out when the next meeting is going to be. I just completed some postgraduate work in marketing and was awarded a master’s in science. So, you know, there’s that.

Dear Jack: In meetings, it seems everyone has an opinion. Who should I listen to?

Sponge, Hong Kong.

Opinions are the natural enemy of creative people. They’re like noses. Everyone has one. Well, except Voldemort, Red Skull, Ultron and that octopus dude in Pirates of the Caribbean.

If you have to pick one, a professional opinion based on knowledge and proven experience is better than a personal preference based on penchant and predisposition.

go with something that scientists call Gut FeelTM because there’s no room for logic in the chambers of the human heart, and even less so in the mind of a marketer.

Dear Jack: My supervisor tells me I’m too honest and critical. But I was always told to tell the truth about how I feel. What should I do?

Blunt, Thailand.

Sincerity is the secret to success. Learn to fake that and you’ve got it made. Jean Giraudoux said that a hundred years ago. It’s just as true today. He was a French diplomat, so he probably knew what he was talking about.

This article was produced for the November issue of Marketing Magazine Hong Kong. For more features and other magazine-exclusive content from this and upcoming issues, you can subscribe to receive your free monthly print copy here or you can read the digital version in its entirety here.

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