The case for a new (old) approach to creativity

The case for a new (old) approach to creativity



You may or may not be interested to know that the IPA have just released a rerun of the research they ran a few years ago on the interplay between creativity and business effectiveness in marketing. It’s a really interesting read and I urge you to get your hands on a copy, but given that we’re all busy people, I thought I’d provide a quick overview.

But first, a quick historical recap. Back in 2011, during a bit of a golden era of IPA reports, The Link Between Creativity and Effectiveness came out. Along with The Long and Short of It and New Models of Marketing Effectiveness, the IPA’s researchers found lots of interesting things that provide a context key to understanding the new report:

Uplifting creativity

Creativity, measured in the report by the number of major creative awards won, creates significant uplift (12x) to business metrics, including sales. It’s that the work was good enough to win the awards, not the award itself, that created the effect. However, two criteria had to be met for this to work:

  1. It had to be run and measured over a period of more than six months, with three years being optimum. Less time than this and more rational campaigns produced better activation effects.
  2. It needed to be supported by excess share of voice (ESOV) media budget. That is, the brand needed to spend more than its market share suggested to get the campaign seen. For instance, delicious yet fictitious ‘Super Soup’ is 50% of the category, so it would need to spend more than 51% of the overall soup category media spend.

Aim for fame

Creativity is hard to define in practice. The best campaigns all featured emotional messaging over rational, and they all aimed for ‘fame’, e.g. creating something that people would want to talk about (not necessarily a ‘viral’ campaign), like the John Lewis Christmas ads.

Short-termism fails

You cannot build a brand by repeating lots of short-term effects; as soon as you look over six months, brand-building campaigns outperform a series of short-term campaigns, even on sales.

At the time, these points were trumpeted with much fanfare, most people agreed with the findings, and we all hoped for a brighter future.

Unfortunately, the new report shows this hasn’t quite happened…

Budget investment behind creativity has fallen sharply

Although the overall percentage of ‘fame’ campaigns has dramatically increased, marketers seem to be cutting the media budgets behind them, meaning less ESOV and sometimes negative ESOV. Imagine it as ‘Well, we’ve spent so much on producing the thing that it’ll have to pull its own weight with less media.’ In 2011, the initial reports showed that with low or negative ESOV, creative campaigns produced weaker business effects than rational ones, so that was never an evidenced strategy.

Short-termism has grown dramatically

The proportion of campaigns which only lasted for six months or less has grown massively. Again, marketers have adopted the ‘fame’ mechanic but demanded return on it in the short term. Remember, since the initial reports we’ve known that you needed more than six months for creative campaigns to outperform rational campaigns.

But at least creativity has evolved to meet new demands

Previously, TV campaigns were the most effective, but now multi-channel campaigns, which include TV, are most effective. This is because the other channels are better at picking up the short-term sales and most campaigns are now short-term. This is acting as a distraction to the real problem of a lack of brand-building. For example, short-term, multi-channel campaigns are more effective than short-term, brand-building TV campaigns, but long-term brand-building campaigns still beat the lot.

Things got a bit emotional back there

So in a nutshell, marketers have generally bought into the nice ‘We should do more emotional, creative stuff’, but have totally failed to deliver it in the right way. It feels to me like we might have a pretty uninspiring day job in the future unless we can play our part in reversing this trend.

As a parting note, in my opinion, the bit that could really damage our industry and brands was hidden in the date ranges of the studies. The 2011 reports were based on 1996–2008 data, and the recent report is based on 1996–2014 data; therefore, the recent ‘bad’ period of short-termism and low media spend is 2009–2014. Gut feel says it’s got worse since. How many of our colleagues or day-to-day contacts client-side began their careers in this latter period? I’m guessing quite a lot. For them, this totally ineffective way of working is marketing; it’s what they’ve been trained to do or respond to. Reversing their perception of what is and isn’t the norm for marketing feels like a top priority if we want to stand out against the increasing sea of dross.

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