I went to the ICA last night to see a lecture and conversation between David Byrne and Geoffrey Miller where they talked about their perspective on creativity. To be honest, my main reason for going was to see David Byrne talk but I was captivated by Geoffrey Miller. He's at the University of New Mexico where he works in the field of evolutionary social psychology specializing in decision making in the social and sexual domains.
He talked last night about how evolutionary psychology can help us understand the social power of art and creativity. I'm going to write more about his work as I begin to digest his book The Mating Mind but it struck me as he talked about how a lot of this thinking can be applied to brands, marketing, communications, etc. And it seems from the papers he's writing at the moment and his next book - Faking Fitness: The Evolutionary Origins of Consumer Behavior - he's already well on to thinking about this.
What really interested me last night was when he began to talk about how two very different birds attract mates through ornaments. I'm probably going to be rather superficial in trying to explain what he talked about but here goes.
The peacock attracts mates through its plumage. Plumage that it inherits genetically. The quality of plumage shows the quality of its genes and therefore the quality of its mating potential.
The bowerbird on the other hand is a very different bird. It's not blessed with the ornament of natural plumage. Instead it shows its quality by creating quite amazing beautiful nests, grand in scale and size and the way they paint it with fruit residue. Attraction is driven by what they do, not just who they are. Their fitness is shown by the high cost of time, energy and skill to construct their bower.
Maybe as an industry we need to stop thinking we are peacocks showing off our colors (image advertising) and think instead (in a world of increasingly homogeneous products and brands and a glut of 'empty', purely aesthetic images) of what actions we can do (despite the high cost of time, energy and skill) to attract people to us.
I've probably horrifically oversimplified this but I sense there is some interesting stuff in Miller's work that may help us better understand the real rules of attraction. More to come.