The reading level for this article is Expert
One of the toughest jobs any agency has is guiding a client through the process of understanding the gestalt of their advertising communications when they are being created.
Gestalt is a German word meaning shape or form. In English gestalt refers to the concept where an entity’s properties cannot be discovered from the total properties of its parts. The more general English equivalents are synergy, holism, emergence, and variations on the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts“.
Those who have not been trained to understand the gestalt of all their marketing efforts by understanding the function of all the elements involved are at a distinct disadvantage over those that do. This inability to see the "forest for the trees" manifests itself in predictable ways; indecisiveness, micro management, over-critical analysis and inappropriate amounts of time spent on things that are, by the very nature of their function in the gestalt of the campaign, not due that much attention–which of course takes time away from the things that do warrant more time and attention.
By way of illustration, the standard project that almost every agency comes up against sooner or later is the "logo-from-hell" project. This is the logo that goes through countless revisions, the owners wife or husbands opinion, the kids opinions, the staffs opinion, the warehouse peoples opinions etc. This occurs because there is no clear understanding of the function of a logo (the form) at the outset. Here is my definition of the function of a logo:
The function of a logo is to carry non-verbal meaning. The meaning it carries comes not from the elements of the logo itself, but are attached to it from the cumulative experiences people have with the products, services or advertising it represents .
The ‘golden arches’ logo of McDonalds wouldn’t convey a darn thing to you if you had not had some previous experience with McDonald’s as a customer or seen their advertising. You would attach no meaning whatsoever to it. You would not associate it with clean restrooms, tasty hot fast food and good fries, a playground for your kids, a quick stop for hot coffee or even a place where they get your order wrong half the time. A logo by itself cannot possibly do the heavy lifting that is often expected of it until the elements that surround it and support it as well as customer experiences begin to add meaning to it.
Without a clear understanding of how a piece of communication functions within the entire gestalt of the campaign, the creation of that piece often becomes an art contest, or worse, over-thought way beyond its ability to achieve what is expected of it. No matter what mediums are used, all the individual pieces form a whole that is stronger than the sum of its parts. Learning to understand the function of each piece of communication and how it contributes to the whole while it is being created will save tons of and effort and help keep focus on the goal ahead rather than over-focusing on things that ultimately make very little difference in the gestalt of the project.