Building back the bridge between creativity and effectiveness

Stephen Graham, Associate Strategy Director, Isobar
By Stephen Graham, Associate Strategy Director, Isobar | 16 July 2019

Unless you’ve been underneath a rock for the past five years you’ll have heard that there is a creative crisis in the advertising industry.  

There’s been a plethora of research over the past 10 years coming from the IPA and revered econometricians and marketing consultants such as Peter Field and Les Binet on creative effectiveness. That is, the link between creative advertising and big business effects like profitability, sales and price elasticity.  

The findings from this catalogue of research has indicated the following: 

  1. Creative effectiveness is on the decline. As recently as last months festival of advertising at Cannes, Peter Field delivered a report outlining that creatively awarded work is now no more effective than non-awarded campaigns.
  2. The boardroom is becoming more reluctant to invest in creativity, especially over the long-term where it is deemed to be most important (and most effective), and is altogether distracted by the availability of the immediate and easy to measure.
  3. And lastly that the perfect balance of brand building (long-term focused campaigns) and sales activations (short-term), according to data, is about a 60:40 split, yet still there’s been a steady rise in the latter creating an unhelpful imbalance.  

The tl;dr? The work we’re supposed to do to help brands grow is becoming far less impactful than it used to be, and with it it’s decreasing market value.  

This, naturally, is not good for our business. We have shareholders who want to make a fast buck, business leadership who want to please shareholders, marketers who want to please the board, and advertising agencies who want to please and keep their clients, with each party locked in the bind of short-termism driving the overall reluctance to invest in creativity. And even if each party in the food-chain knows better thanks to all the well published research mentioned prior, there’s still a compelling incentive for them not to change. 

As such, as critical as industry discussion and awareness of the creative crisis is, I think the desired come to Jesus moment will happen as a result of something else entirely - data transformation.  

Yes, perhaps not the creative hero we want, but hear me out as I think it’s the hero we need.  

Right now, there should not be a CMO in Australia who’s not aware of the need to, if not already making some headway centralising the disparate and siloed data sources of their organisation, augmenting it with 2nd and 3rd party sources, and connecting it all through their marketing technology ecosystem. If they’re not, well all the best to them. 

This data transformation initiative is of course part of the strategy to realise the holy grail we’ve all been promised since the dawn of martech - the single view of customer, 1:1 communications, AI driven optimisation, micro interactions at scale etc etc. What was once just a glittering lure, is now in reach. 

And yes, CMOs and CDOs turning their Frankenstacks into a Rube Goldberg Machine fuelled by a customer data platform will ensure marketers shift the dial in terms of personalisation, but the real game changer for creative efficacy is having your raw data in one place for analysis.   

Being able to analyse this raw data and modelling it over time enables a business to identify the key indicators that ladder up organisational goals (like making loads of money) and what drives those indicators, whether it’s lovely expensive creativity in the form of brand comms and experiences or not. Not to mention centralised data becomes an asset that can enable mixed media modelling, brand econometrics and churn analysis.  

The point is that with the knowledge centralised data provides, an organisation can be much more resolute about when it should invest in creativity, how much and the impact of that investment. It’s worth noting this also works for other parts of the organisation too, not just marketing related initiatives.

And I see it with the clients we’re working with who are on that data transformation journey - they’re shifting the conversation around marketing decisions from feeling to knowing and they’re holding the damn course on the decisions they make.

The end goal of data transformation initiatives right now might not be creative efficacy, but it’s one hell of a bi-product we as an industry can make the most of. The fact that it’s already on the CMO agenda and therefore more likely to resonate than the umpteenth regurgitation of charts from ‘The Long and The Short of it’ and a request for a bigger budget is just smart choice architecture really. 

With creative bravery currently lacking, helping to empower marketers to make more courageous decisions should be the focus of lead agencies. Field, Binet and the like have proved how and why the gap between creativity and effectiveness is widening, it’s now on us to close it and data transformation holds the key.  

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