Creativity pays

I would be surprised to find anyone in the business of marketing who disagrees that creative advertising is more noticeable, memorable, creates positive brand impressions and spreads the message faster than run-of-the mill campaigns.

However, the age-old debate about whether highly creative ads are more effective than their more ‘pedestrian’ counterparts never fully goes away. Do highly creative ads really lead to increased sales, or do they ‘merely’ help improve the softer aspects of brand performance?

And how can we best assess whether an ad is highly creative? Should that really be left to awards ceremonies as the only accepted measure of creativity? Surely, more rigour could be applied to measuring creativity, particularly if better business results are at stake.

To uncover the link between campaign creativity and actual sales, Werner Reinartz and Peter Saffertt, in their 2013 Harward Business Review article “Creativity in Advertising: When It Works and When It Doesn’t” analysed 437 TV campaigns for 90 fast moving consumer goods brands in Germany. They provide clear evidence that, yes, highly creative ads do generate more sales.

“A euro invested in a highly creative ad campaign had nearly double the sales impact of a euro spent on a non-creative campaign.”

Alongside this, the article addresses the question of what consumers perceive to be a creative piece of advertising, and how the level of creativity can be measured.

Creativity in marketing is usually defined as having two characteristics: divergence and relevance. While relevance tends to receive considerable attention (in market research, business discussions and academic literature), divergence is usually condensed into perceived execution novelty or originality. But there’s much more to it than that. Research in communications psychology suggests creativity is perceived along five rich dimensions:

  • Originality – out of the ordinary, unique and departing from stereotypical thinking
  • Flexibility – containing ideas that move or shift from one to another
  • Elaboration – showing unexpected details or intricate development of ideas
  • Synthesis – blending or connecting normally unrelated objects or ideas
  • Artistic value – aesthetically appealing.

From these five facets the HBR authors developed a consumer survey approach for measuring perceived creativity. In doing so, they discovered that in order to maximise return on investment, it is crucial which specific dimensions of creativity are used in a campaign and how they interlink. For example, their findings show flexibility is one of the least effective creative dimensions, whether used alone or in combination, while originality plays an important enabling role.

Furthermore, incremental increases in campaign creativity will not have the same effect in every category. Highly creative product categories such as fizzy drinks, alcohol or cars may not see a big increase while traditionally ‘boring’ categories such as cleaning products may see a significant uplift from an added dose of creativity.

“The conservative approaches adopted in many product categories are leaving money on the table. “

This implies companies should be investing more in creative campaigns and indeed, should measure perceived creativity more rigorously before campaign launches. More creative ads could end up costing more, thus eating into the media budget; however, they are likely to stand a better chance of improving sales.

Heineken’s approach to creativity provides proof that this can be very successful. Staff at Heineken are being taught how to evaluate and discuss creativity, using what they call a “creative ladder” to categorise campaigns on to different rungs. Anything deemed not good enough is scrapped – and the standards are very high. In June this year Heineken has yet again been named Creative Marketer of the Year. This rigorous approach has clearly been paying dividends for them.

Katja Vukcevic, Account Director.