Commercial creatives have to think differently. How else do they attract the attention of people who don't want to be sold anything? Is thinking differently a rare and innate gift?
Martin Kovacs explores another way of reaching an audience.
What colour is the letter A? What about the number 8? While we're at it, does the opening of Beethoven's Fifth evoke a distinct smell?
To set the record straight, this is not the hazy, leftover philosophising of an LSD trip or a leaked snippet from an induction test for the Raelian Happiness Academy.
Indeed, Mozart is said to have had it, Marilyn Monroe reportedly had it too, singer Tori Amos has it, as does rocker Billy Joel. It's believed somewhere between 2 to 4% of the population have synaesthesia, the phenomenon which occurs when the stimulation of one of the five senses—sight, sound, taste, smell and touch—triggers a reaction in another sense.
Far from being a negative condition, most synaesthetes embrace their cross-sensory experiences, which can be almost any possible combination of the senses.
In one common form of synaesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as colours, while in another sound again has the ability to provoke a palette of colour. Over 60 types of synaesthesia have been reported, yet only a fraction have been subject to scientific research.
But here's the kicker: synaesthesia is far more common in the creative community than in the general population, with creative types seven times more likely to experience cross-wiring of the senses. Indeed, artists with synaesthesia often use it to aid the creative process.
Yes, it brings a whole new meaning to “showing one's true colours”.
As noted in Jamie Ward's 2008 book, The Frog Who Croaked Blue, studies of synaesthesia are leading to a rethink about the way the senses are organised and, perhaps, in the commercial world practical applications of this type of research could potentially provide a whole new level to sensory branding.
(As a counterpoint, take the Australian Government's initiative to strip cigarette packaging of any identifying markings and logos. Take away a product's appeal to the senses, in this case sight, and you take away its personality and emotional impact.)
It may well be that synaesthetes are naturally more intuitive when it comes to organisation of the senses and, by extension, in the scope of their creative application. Indeed, a careful sensory nudge every once in a while may be all it takes to demonstrate that the “world is full of magic things”.
“What would be truly surprising would be to find that sound could not suggest colour, that colours could not evoke the idea of a melody, and that sound and colour were unsuitable for the translation of ideas, seeing that things have always found their expression through a system of reciprocal analogy,” wrote French poet and critic, Charles Baudelaire.
Yes, there's an undeniable method to the madness. While blue-croaking frogs may seem a little Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to some, rest assured we haven't yet slipped down the collective rabbit hole.
Have I illustrated my point? If so, is it cast in brilliant shades of blue, orange, green?
And perhaps this will lend further colour to the subject - the sensory impressions of synaesthetes display little conformity, meaning Beethoven's Fifth may well evoke the aroma of Aunt Betty's Sunday pork roast for one person, while creating the fragrance of salt water in the air for another.
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