Opinion: Do creative ads sell?
In a recent edition of Admap, DDB London’s Les Binet and Sarah Carter tackle the ‘most hardwired of marketing myths’ – the assumption that while highly creative ads may be enjoyable, emotional or nice to look at, they don’t actually work.
In the article, Binet and Carter are keen to point out that:
• Ads that win creative awards are 11 times more efficient than those that don’t
• Highly creative campaigns get people talking both online and offline about the brand and the advertising
• Econometric analysis shows that some of the most creative ads have delivered a significantly higher return on investment.
Les Binet and Sarah Carter of DDB get a little bit angry about some of the nonsense they hear around them... like the idea that highly creative ads don't actually work “That Sony ‘Balls’ ad? – very beautiful, but don't suppose it sold many TVs.” “Ah, the Cadbury's ‘Gorilla’ ad didn't actually work, did it?” “The John Lewis ad made me cry, but will it make me buy any more stuff?”
These are all comments heard in the past two weeks. Frankly, they are not uncommon. Whenever ground-breaking communication emerges, the marketing naysayers can be heard soon afterwards. Yes, it's funny, they say. Even clever. Or beautifully shot. But will it actually sell anything?
Grrr…There's an implicit assumption among many marketing people that creativity and effectiveness are awkward bedfellows. Creative ads bring fame and awards. But the ads that sell stuff are much more prosaic.
So we were fascinated to hear this week of new research that busts this most hardwired of marketing myths. Peter Field, in association with the IPA, has undertaken new analysis of the relationship between creativity and effectiveness. Using the IPA's dataBANK, he compares performance in creative awards around the world with actual business results, for a huge number of campaigns. So, does the creativity needed to win major creative awards improve a brand's chance of business success?
The answer is an emphatic ‘yes’. Ads that win creative awards are significantly more effective than ads that don't. And the more creative awards they win, the more effective they tend to be. But the most striking finding is how efficient creative campaigns are. Ads that win creative awards are 11 times more efficient at selling stuff than other ads. That's an astonishing finding. It suggests that creativity is almost certainly the most important tool at the marketing director's disposal.
The research also highlights two reasons why award-winning ads work so well. Highly creative campaigns get people talking, on and offline, about the brand and the advertising. This amplifies the direct effect of the campaign.
The second mechanism is more controversial. Ads that win creative awards tend to be high on emotional impact, and lower than average on rational content. Conventional marketing wisdom says that to shift product, you need to get your selling message across. But this is a myth we have busted before. Conventional wisdom is wrong. Emotions have far more influence over people's buying behaviour than rational product messages do.
Back to the ‘Gorilla’ myth. That ad said nothing about Cadbury's Dairy Milk, yet econometric analysis for the campaign's creative agency Fallon by Data2Decisions has shown a 60% higher ROI than previous campaigns for the chocolate. Highly creative and highly successful.
So why is this myth that creative ads don't work so pervasive? Some clients seem to feel uncomfortable with the very idea that ads like these could work. Because if these ads do move sales, that's a big challenge to their carefully honed models of communication. Surely, their company can't have been wrong all these years in their systems and benchmarks? But, as John Maynard Keynes witheringly said: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?”
Alarmingly, research evidence is building which shows that this emotional selling approach, so prevalent in award-winning ads, doesn't tend to perform well in conventional quantitative pre-testing. What a waste. How many other potentially business-changing ads are piling up in that animatic graveyard?
This leaves us with the intriguing and entirely counter-intuitive thought that those ‘creative types’ judging on creative awards panels, for all their oft maligned focus on the ground-breaking, the provocative and the artistic, they may actually turn out to be more skilled at predicting an ad's business success than all the thousands of dollars routinely invested in pre-testing systems.
Back to John Maynard Keynes: “There is nothing so disastrous as a rational investment policy in an irrational world”.
He would have needed to look no further than a lot of current pre-testing for some proof that he was right.
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Published November 2010