As we hunker down with our marketing automation platforms, marvel at the efficiency of our programmatic ad buy and get intoxicated from endless gulps of data, have we lost the magic in advertising? Technology is great at doing repeatable tasks at record speeds to reach faster and cheaper marketing outcomes. Is that what we now call advertising? Somehow in our zeal to push the limits of technology we’ve left something out of the equation – creativity. Make no mistake, marketing automation is a great tool but has its novelty overshadowed the core our expertise? Does creativity matter anymore?
According to Werner Reinartz and Peter Saffert in the June 2013 HBR article, A euro invested in a highly creative ad campaign had nearly double the sales impact of a euro spent on a noncreative campaign. They go on to say, our findings confirm the conventional wisdom that creativity matters: Overall, more creative campaigns were more effective—considerably so. We also found that certain dimensions of creativity are more effective than others in influencing purchasing behavior—and that many companies focus on the wrong dimensions in their campaigns. https://hbr.org/2013/06/creativity-in-advertising-when-it-works-and-when-it-doesnt
In October 2014, Austin Dicharry, Director of Marketing at ProgrammaticAdvertising.org wrote this about the importance of creativity for programmatic campaigns. To be effective, even though programmatic advertising is based almost entirely on campaigns getting triggered based on certain types of actions, creativity is still hugely important. You need to be creative, clever and above all else direct in order to increase the effectiveness of a particular campaign in any way that you can.
And in 2013 the ADMA, Association for Data-driven Marketing & Advertising inaugural study asserts that the value of creativity to effectiveness has long been a hotly contested issue and rightly so. The ADMA case studies reveal much about how creativity contributes to results and most importantly the timescales over which it does so. The answer is not a simple one but illuminates one of the most pernicious influences on marketing effectiveness today: the drive for short-term results. Like many of the drivers of long-term success, creativity becomes a victim of short-termism.
A few more great insights from the ADMA study.
• Don’t regard creativity as a last resort. Creatively awarded campaigns tend to be for smaller brands in more challenging categories – they are often born out of disadvantage, but their benefits apply to all.
• Creativity has a particularly strong beneficial effect on price sensitivity, allowing brands to harden pricing. This has a strong boosting effect on profitability and is its key virtue.
• Creativity’s most important brand effects are to boost brand saliency and ‘fame’ (i.e. on and offline buzz). These drive the business benefits observed above but take time to do so.
Our industry is in a race to employ ever more sophisticated data-driven methods to eek out miniscule percentages of improvement in all parts of the marketing funnel but hardly a mention of creativity. This trend may be one reason our industry is in the mess it's in today. I fear creativity may be yet another victim of the “tyranny of now, no time to get the creative right, plenty of time to do it over. Oddly enough, we have all experienced the incredible impact of great creativity, Dove’s Real Beauty, P & G’s Thank You Mom, even Budweiser’s Whassup. A few brands have succeeded in capturing our attention and remain in our memories and continue to drive sales because of it. Their success had nothing to do with the modern marketing technologies we hear so much about today. They all believed that creativity matters.
Why then is creativity not front and center in marketing discussion? Just imagine how much more powerful a campaign would be if creativity were the centerpiece in a highly optimized technology driven marketing platform solution thingy. No matter how optimized an email program or how targeted a programmatic buy, alone it is nothing more than a completed action to check off on a marketing dashboard. The result of that action is mostly lost as soon as it occurs unless creativity grabs attention, interest, emotion and more. If all that happens is a click, purchase and goodbye, a sale occurred but the brand experience is immediately forgotten and the lifetime potential of that consumer is lost forever. Not a great investment in my book but hey, it’s efficient! Check that box. Move on.
While the debate continues over the declining effectiveness of advertising – click rates are dropping, display ads get viewed only 30% of the time, TV spots are skipped, content is ignored – is it because consumers are taking control or is it because marketers have lost their ability to connect? Are we chasing data because it's so much easier to make the columns add up rather than being creative? Has the need to drive departmental efficiency trumped long-term effectiveness? I worry too many have become content to win one little battle while losing the war? I sense that too many believe creativity doesn’t matter anymore.
Andy Pontin, Chief Executive Officer, Clemenger BBDO, Sydney says that in a world of unprecedented competition and product parity, where consumers are bombarded with more channels and more messages than ever before, we believe…that creativity is one of the last legal means of driving unfair competitive advantage.
Marketers, please don’t fall for the panacea of automation. Don't be hypnotized by the mindless repetition of “data-driven” aphrodisiacs. Make sure that the creativity in your effort is unique enough to break away from the competition, clever enough to differentiate and powerful enough to win the consumer for life.
I know driving creativity is hard, very, very hard. That is why there is so much bad advertising bombarding us every day. But know you do not have to settle. There are agencies that haven’t surrendered to big data with highly creative people who can help. They place extraordinary value on their creative product and their creativity to solve the toughest marketing problems. If you want to see significant improvements in your marketing investment, don’t just automate. Find an agency that won’t simply sell you a marketing platform to be more efficient but rather a creative platform to be more effective.
If you are in doubt, I would be happy to recommend a variety of firms who haven’t sold their soul to big data.
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