How effective is creativity in advertising?

If you want to provoke a heated debate between marketing and advertising types asking this question is one way to get the feathers flying. For some, creativity is critical if you want to differentiate yourself and grab people’s attention. Others think it’s little more than ad agency wank designed to perpetuate an annual pilgrimage to the south of France. A votre santé!

I’ve always found it curious that we work in the same industry yet have such sharply divergent views. Are we all really having vastly different experiences? A timely piece of research conducted by the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) in Australia would suggest the answer is probably yes. 

The short version – after a close analysis of their 2012 ADMA Awards they conclude that seeing benefits from creativity hinges largely on how, or more accurately when, you choose to evaluate its impacts. But first, some context. 

The ADMA Awards are an interesting show to examine because there are two types of awards you can win, effectiveness and creativity. This gets interesting when work is entered into both categories because the overlap allows you to compare the relationship between the two.

But to add a richer layer of data, all 461 entrants also completed a survey. Was your advertising about brand building, market share, direct response? Were you targeting new or existing customers? How long did it run? You get the idea. The report unearthed 20 key findings in all. But the ones that specifically relate to us were:

– Creativity makes advertising much more (four times more!) effective than non-creative advertising, but only if your time scale for reporting is six months or longer.
– If your time scale for reporting is under six months you will see no benefit: creativity does not drive effectiveness in the short term.
– The time-dependent link between creativity and effectiveness applied to all major sectors; no evidence was found that some, or any, categories were exempted.
– Creativity confers a particularly strong beneficial effect on price sensitivity, allowing brands to price harden even though no-one stated this was their intention. (It seems you get that one for free.)

Think about any piece of advertising you’ve been involved with, was the length of time it was going to run considered as the primary reason to use creativity? Personally I struggle to think of many. It’s true that major campaigns lean on creativity as they fight for continued salience over time. But production time, budget or perceived customer value are usually much more common factors in this sort of decisioning. 

Or, think about a creative campaign that didn’t work (we’ve all been there, let’s be honest). Was the time scale for success less than six months? Was the work pulled or altered because of poor initial results? I can recall a few. With today’s retail-esque, quick-fire, offer-led, get-it-out-there-now pace, the pressure to change tack in the face of poor results can be immense. Yet this report would suggest that’s the worst thing you could do.

No doubt, for some, this will reinforce the view that creativity is not worth investing in. But here’s the rub. Any results you achieve in the short term are just that, short term. What this report clearly shows is that non-creative advertising peaks quickly then fades, and you’re back to square one. Now what? 

The rewards, however, for adopting a creative approach are substantial and longer lasting, this report suggests. Once it takes effect, creativity delivers more than four times the effectiveness (imagine that on your bottom line). And unlike non-creative advertising, results increase rather than diminish over time; it’s a platform you build on, rather than continually reinvent.

It’s also worth remembering that creativity confers a significant reduction to price sensitivity: people pay more when you create a strong creative appeal. Think of the advantage you’d enjoy if you could charge more, not less. How would your competitors feel about that? 

We all know the best creative advertising takes time to plan, conceive and execute. To that we now add takes time to return results. But the results it does return for those who make it are more than worth their time. 

Tim Wood is the creative director of RAPP New Zealand.

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