Thursday, January 29, 2015

Just How Risky is Creative Advertising?

The short answer?

Much less risky than boring advertising.

Do you know how marketing messages we are exposed to every day?

Figures vary but it's safely between several hundred and several thousand. A figure of between 3000 and 5000 marketing communication messages every 24 hours is often mentioned. Read the links in this article here to give you an idea of the studies done in this area, some which clarify that number, some that dispute it.

Of course when you talk about messaging in the thousands, you are including every single message - from your Facebook stream, the branding on the motorbike in front of you, messaging in shopfront windows and on shopping bags, packaging and so on. In reality, we obviously don't "see" all those messages, as Shari Worthington notes in this piece. She notes:

"Our senses are bombarded with over 11 million bits of data every SECOND. The average person’s working memory can handle 40-50 bits, max. That means we ignore 10,999,950 bits of data every second we are awake."- See more at:

Whatever the amount is, studies conducted by Harvard University's Graduate School of Business way back in 1964 concluded that of all the messages we see, only 76 penetrate our subconscious. (Bauer, Greyser

Further studies emphasised that from the 76 messages of which a person might be aware, only 12 made any kind of impression (Adams, Common Sense in Advertising, 1965). 

And of those, how many are remembered the next day? Figures range between none, 1, 1.7 and mostly, at most 2. (*All references to this research taken from notes in the excellent book: Case for Creativity by James Hurman).

Bear in mind, these studies quaintly only measured 4 - 5 media types: magazines (remember them?), newspapers, radio and TV. Only in later studies did they include outdoor.

Fast forward to the proliferation of media around us, and taking into account Shari's estimate that we only really see between 300 and 700 marketing messages per day, let's settle on a number of around 500? Assuming the number of 76  of which people are even vaguely aware still stands (and why wouldn't it?) that's 15%. If only 12 of those 76 make any impact, we get 15% and a miserly 2% of the total. And recall the next day? Of those that made an impact we are likely to remember 16% the next day, when we're shopping for something. And if we take the percentage of those recalled the next day of the total number of messages of which we were aware? 0.4%. 

Point being - if a tree falls in a forest if probably makes a sound but no-one cares. Ditto with 98% of advertising.

Some valuable insights on whether a tree makes a sound: image from

So. Good. That's all clear. We want to be making ads, creating marketing messages, that work. Awareness on its own really isn't much use. What we're trying to do with commercial messaging is create a behaviour change - change how someone thinks or feels or what they do. So vague awareness is only marginally useful. We need to make an impact.

But how? 

Buy more media? Prof Byron Sharp reckons that by extending your penetration, you will grow share as depends largely on mental and physical availability. Not everyone can afford that.

Be more creative? Yip.

Isn't that risky?

Turns out it's the opposite of risky. Mediocre is the risky option.

My elaborate maths above should have already told you that. By being boring you simply won't make any impact and your marketing investment has become that poor tree in the forest that no-one hears.

And how about this?

Here are some astounding some facts, summarised in The Case for Creativity, reported in a 2010 study, commissioned by the IPA (Institute of Practitioners of Advertising) and Thinkbox in the UK. The research was conducted by acclaimed researcher Peter Field and entitled "The Link Between Creativity and Effectiveness".

  • Only about 0,001% of advertising wins a creative award, yet among highly effective campaigns (in this case winners of an IPA Effectiveness award), 18% are awarded. This means that there's on "over-index of 128,500" of how likely creative campaigns are to be effective.
  • In an analysis of "Excess Share of Voice" (ESOV, which correlates a brand's share of advertising with its share of market, Peter Field found that the "Return On Investment (ROI) for a highly creative campaign is on average 11 times higher". ie... "you need to spend 11 times more on media for an uncreative production" to achieve the same result.
  • And, here's the kicker: Creatively awarded campaigns are more certain to achieve a higher rate of effectiveness by a "degree of confidence of 99.9%" as opposed to to non-awarded campaigns'  degree of confidence of 87%.
"What this implies is that less creative campaigns are not only less efficient, but also less predictable than creatively-awarded ones - something of a departure from the perceived notion that a more creative approach is a less certain one"
James Hurman

There are plenty more fascinating analyses in the book or on the Slideshare presentation (link above) if you need more convincing. James Hurman actually concludes that he looked for but couldn't find any research to prove that there isn't a link between creative advertising and effectiveness.

Heavens alive, even Millward-Brown reported in 2011 in an article titled Creative Effectiveness that they observed an overlap  between creative advertising and effective advertising. They concluded, having re-tested Peter Field's research, and added to it with some of their own, that persuasiveness was over-rated and emotional connection is far more effective.

"A study of IPA effectiveness, Effie and Cannes Lions awards winners reveals that ads don't need to persuade to be effective but they do usually engage emotionally."
Dominic Twose, Polly Wyn Jones, Millward-Brown, 2011

Two quick & interesting cases in point

That Volvo ad with Jean Claude van Damme: "Epic Split".

The industry was divided about it. They're talking only to truck buyers, so why should 90million YouTube views matter? Here's what Volvo said.

In a survey they commissioned amongst 2,200 commercial truck drivers, nearly half who had seen the campaign said they are more likely to choose Volvo the next time they buy a truck. A third of all respondents had alraedy contacted a dealer or visited the website for more information. There was also a very positive improvement in the perception of Volvo Trucks as "an innovative and modern truck brand".

Oh, and they achieved their annual sales target in the first Quarter after "Epic Split" ran.

Not bad, huh?

Remember Dove's Real Beauty Sketches ad, with the forensic artist?

"Since they launched the campaign, Dove has seen an increase of almost 2 billion in sales, and has received a multitude of awards, including 19 at the Cannes Lion Film Festival alone.
Princeton Partners

It won lots of awards, got  65 million views on YouTube. Did it work?
"A jury of six men and two women awarded “Sketches” the Grand Effie, based on it driving $24 million in incremental sales and garnering $52 million worth of media exposure, all on a budget of just $925,000."
 June 5 2014, Adweek 

Great - that's sorted then.

Let's make creative ads!

Only problem is it's quite hard. Remember that only 0.01% of all ads actually wins an award! 

David Droga, Founder and Creative Chairman of Droga5,  explained why it's so hard going great work, in this interview when his agency was named AdAge's Creative Innovator of 2015: 

"Breaking through the clutter is just part of the Droga5 M.O. Solid strategy supports all of the agency's work -- something Mr. Droga said that for him, has not necessarily always been the case. "There's no question in my younger days, I'd think you could just blink and creative would solve everything. But now it has to be creative on strategy. What's hard is trying to be responsibly creative, versus just creative."

Probably my favourite work of theirs in the past year is this one for a cereal, Mondelez HoneyMaid. Watch it and think of the cereal ads you've seen lately.


It's tough. And sometimes we try too hard. Sometimes we're too picky about getting every word in the body copy right, when the ad isn't any good.

"Most advertising isn’t good. Let alone great. Consciously or unconsciously it  assumes its role to bludgeon the consumer into submission.  It tries to argue the consumer into purchase.   It tries – with varying degrees of heavy-handedness – to reason the hapless audience into some kind of Damascene-like conversion. It has no interest in speaking to what interests the consumer. Its starting point is itself, rather than the passions, concerns and inclinations of its audience. It is, I suspect, born a prisoner of marketing superstition."

It requires the right skills, on the marketer side and an on the agency side. It requires the right relationship between agency and client. It requires courage. Fundamentally it requires an unwavering belief that creative advertising is effective.

It's worth it.

A final word from Creative Circle's first Marketing Champion of Creativity, Geoff Whyte, now CEO of Nandos Southern Africa:

Off you go then. No-ones waiting for you, unless you give them something worth waiting for.


Adtherapy works with Marketers and Agencies to help them work together better so that they create better work. Contact Gillian Rightford on, +(27)(0)832659099 or visit our website if you want to know more.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Now's The Time To Sort Out Your Client-Agency Relationship

It's 2015 and already the year is galloping by. The relationship with your ad agency or client that might have started wearing thin towards the end of last year, may now be basking in the ever fading glow of the summer holiday. But as the tan fades, and you both start feeling crushed by the relentless torrent of work, so too may the renewed desire to play nicely. It might just be time to do a Client-Agency intervention. 

Image courtesy of holohololand at

An Adtherapy Client-Agency Relationship Intervention is a positive and constructive process that aims to review and learn from the challenges that are getting in the way of doing great work. And to then ensure the right processes and partnership principles are applied for each party. 

The ultimate aim? A successful business partnership that produces great creative work for the brand. 

The relationship between a Marketer (Client) and an Agency is often compared to a marriage. Although procurement people have tried to muscle in on the dating and wedding processes, the truth is that the relationship is between the people in the bed together, so to speak. This relationship has its ups and downs, and the primary reason for the “marriage” analogy is that it veers from moments of great joy to the depths of despair; from compromise to utterly unreasonable; is prone to emotional and subjective responses, blame and above all, is always high risk.

There are a number of companies offering tools (e.g. Y-CareRAM) to help ad agencies and their marketing clients assess the status of their professional relationship. These are usually survey based and can be done on an ongoing basis, a few times a year or even just once a year as an annual assessment.

The assessments are usually mutual – agency scores marketing team and marketing team scores agency. The assessments flag areas of high and low performance and hopefully shed some light on those areas that one or both parties need to continue, or need to improve, if the relationship is to be the best it can be.

The assessments will highlight key success areas, and urgent issues that need to be addressed. Unless the agency and the marketing team take immediate steps to address these issues, the relationship is heading for the rocks. A friend I once worked with was married to a divorce attorney. He said this: 
“once a divorce file is opened, it’s never closed”.

Once doubt settles in, frustration builds, trust falls and the divorce file is metaphorically opened.

So, it's a no-brainer that both marketing and agency teams would assign the highest priority to getting the problem areas sorted, right? Although it sounds simple, sometimes these areas are not improved, or even addressed. You may well wonder why this happens, when improving these areas has such important ramifications for both businesses and such dire consequences if not done?

Who knows, but I’ll hazard a few guesses:
  1. Because it falls into Steven Covey’s Important but Not Urgent box? No-one will be harping on this on a daily basis and so it slips through the cracks while the urgency and noise of the day job takes priority?
  2. Because addressing the issues might rock the boat and the agency thinks it might destabilize the relationship and they might lose the business?
  3. Because the parties don't know how to fix the problems?  
  4. Because one party expects the other party to change completely while they change nothing?
  5. Because no. 4 is allowed to happen because of no 2?
  6. Because one or both parties don’t take the measurements seriously, or thinks its all the other party's fault anyway? 

That's why Adtherapy starting offering Agency-Client Interventions, running successfully since 2007. The current relationship's appraisal 'score', and the key issues that have been identified, are only the starting point.

A client once asked what the ‘success rate’ was in Agency-Client Interventions. Interesting question. In all those that I have done, I have only recommended one partnership to split, as the relationship had deteriorated beyond what I felt was salvageable. Was that a failure? I think not – maintaining a destructive client-agency relationship is toxic for all parties and especially destructive for the end creative product. That agency and that client went on to find new partners with whom they have done great work.

The reason why Client-Agency Interventions are like marriage counseling is that they examine whether it’s possible to improve the relationship to save it, and how. 

A recent study by the IPA suggests that the costs for pitches are extremely high – for the agency and for the client. So we ideally want to keep the relationship intact but make it commercially and psychologically viable for both parties. We want to look at the drivers for successful relationships and what the drivers are for the relationship under duress. 

Just so you know, the IPA recently concluded that four drivers of successful agency-client relationships are:
  1. Transparent and effective approval processes 
  2. Mutually agreed and maintained timing plans. 
  3. Honest and open briefings with clear business objectives, budget, timing and brand guidelines. 
  4. Respectful and collaborative behaviours built on shared goals and rewards.
The most important thing is this: like the divorce lawyer’s sad observation, the sooner this counseling takes place the better for the eventual outcome of the partnership.

My advice? Don’t wait till it blows up.

Deal with it urgently. Get stuck in. You can do it yourself, or you can let us help. We can add a qualitative and interpretive (and totally objective) layer to what you already know but might not think you can do anything about. Let’s scope some Partnership Principles and deal with any process or people issues. Let’s be proactive rather than defensive.

And let’s all live happily ever after.


An Adtherapy Client-Agency Relationship Intervention is a positive and constructive process that aims to learn from the relationship challenges and ensure that the right partnership principles are applied for each party. 
The ultimate aim? A successful business partnership that produces the best work. A recent client described the process as 'part agony aunt, part freedom fighter'. We like that.
Mail or phone on 0832659099 to chat about how we can help you.

10 Lessons For Agencies & Marketers, From 3 Ad Veterans

I read Wallop recently, the recollections of Bob Rightford, Brian Searle-Tripp and Roger Makin about the ad agency they built: Rightford Searle-Tripp Makin (RSTM). The agency became Ogilvy Mather-RSTM and is now simply called Ogilvy.

Disclaimer - Bob Rightford is my father in law.

In my 25+ years in the ad business, I didn't ever work for the company, either during Bob's tenure or after his retirement. I did however work for a few of their competitors. So reading the book was like peering in through a window. It was fascinating to look inside, from the outside.

What is also fascinating is to use the book as a then and now comparison.

No-one can deny they not only made great creative ads, they also helped their clients build strong brands  and strong businesses. If you go to the Golden Oldies page of the website, it truly is a chronicle of the foundations of some of our biggest and most loved brands.

What? Creative ads that also built business? I cringe when I hear marketers expressing surprise or cynicism in that notion. Firstly, a creative ad is only great if it achieves the objectives set out in the brief. And secondly, there is more than enough evidence (see the research in The Case for Creativity) that creative ads have a far better chance of achieving better commercial results. So it should be a no-brainer for businesses to want the best creative from their agencies. And for agencies to constantly strive to provide groundbreaking ideas.

And yet, at the nub of so many agency-client relationship issues is this notion of the agency not  "adding value", not bringing "thought leadership" nor "business building ideas" to their clients. Many marketers feel that their agencies simply don't understand their business and aren't business focused enough. Bear in mind that CEO's of businesses even feel their CMO's aren't business focused enough! (see this Fournaise research). So the disconnect from CEO to CMO to agency, and ultimately to the creative output and the agency-client relationship, is massive.

What Wallop shows us is that  RSTM managed to connect rather than be disconnected. They formed deep relationships with their clients, many of which persist to this day, long after Bob, Brian and Roger retired. They built a company culture, one which the current Ogilvy team respects and builds upon. They attracted great people. They did great work. The work they did created foundations for brands that grew from strength to strength. And because of all that, and a few other things they got right, their agency grew from strength to strength.

So how did they achieve this holy grail?

I took some lessons out of the book - looking at what they did then, in the light of some of the challenges the industry faces now. Sure, the industry is different and remuneration models are tougher and client structures are harder to crack and people are busier and labour law is more stringent and.... There are loads of reasons why it could be said that it is much harder to succeed in advertising now than it was then. And yet. And yet... There are agencies that are succeeding. And I would hazard a guess that the lessons I gleaned, listed below, will be old hat to them. Different era, same principles.

Here are the lessons, in no particular order, I digested from the book. I think they're important for the industry of today - both marketing side and agency side.

1. Strong connection with the CEO and Marketing Director

The relationship between Bob Rightford and the CEO's of their client's companies, as well as the Marketing Directors, was strong, close and even bordered on brutal honesty. There was no kowtowing and second guessing. The depth of these relationships allowed for difficult conversations, allowed for respect to grow, and allowed for the right work to be produced.

Over the years an insidious culture has crept into the industry that CEO's are too important for marketing issues, and particularly advertising issues. Agency MD's and CEO's bemoan they have lost their seat at the Top Table. So, the relationship has been pushed further down and it lands somewhere at Marketing Manager-Account Director level. This is fine on a functional, timeline, project management basis, but it certainly won't build the kind of business successes that a strong relationship further up, or right at the top, will.

Another odd notion amongst agency account management or MD's that their job is "to keep the client happy", to not rock the boat, in case they lose the business. The irony is if they continue with that approach, they will lose the business anyway.

An agency is not there to keep the client happy. The agency is there to do great work which helps the client company achieve their marketing objectives. Sometimes, because of the subjective nature of creativity and innovation, that requires some boat rocking. And Wallop tells plenty of stories in that regard. All with happy endings.

2. Absolute loyalty to client's products.

Bob Rightford retired in 1995. Twenty years later, to this day, he remains fiercely loyal to his former clients' brands. And this brand loyalty was expected from everyone at RSTM.

Of course, not only is this polite, but it turns agency staff into consumers. The insights gleaned, the selling cycle, the product highs and lows are experienced by the people working on the business. It also takes you further into the clients value chain, into the real understanding of issues  that might affect the consumer. You will seldom get this in a brief. The example in the book about VW's dealers and the campaigns they developed to help them as businesses too, is a great example, particularly as the agency had to fight hard to get it made.

3. A deep understanding of the client's business, on every level and in every channel. No lines.

This follows on from the point above. But it was more than that. A slavish devotion to understanding every aspect of the client, from factory visits to store visits, competitive analyses (actual, on foot, not just Google), speaking to other channels in the selling cycle, like Dealers in the example above.

This built the ability to develop powerful insights. It allows the agency to access insights into the purchase behaviour of consumers that clients may be too close to, to see. Great campaigns usually have a cracker insight at their core. Also out of insight comes proactivity. Insights inspire new product concepts, new angles to address problems, new distribution options. And here's the thing - far from losing the business by forcing your clients to confront unpleasant truths, you not only help build their business, but also build the agency's business. In effect the VW Dealers became a new client, with additional revenue opportunities for the agency.

Too many agencies rely on their clients to give them insights. Too many marketers rely on their "Insights department" to give them insights, which is often just information. Too many of us are using the internet, or big data or third party research to tell us what people are doing. If you as an agency member are actively using, buying, driving, drinking your client's product every day, and making sure you watch others who do too, you'll be certain to stumble across an insight or two, way quicker than from behind your desk.

This deep understanding of the business your client is in, is also so critical in today's multi-channel communications era. No longer is it simply above- or below- the line. Now we have a million more silos. Digital. Social. Experiential. Activation. Shopper. Retail. Online, offline.  Third screen. Fourth Screen. And you know what - the consumer doesn't see it that way. There is no line. Only a consumer wanting, or not, to buy something.

4. Proactivity is not a cute tactical ad. It builds value for the client company. Business value.

The best example of this in the book, and there are many, was the creation by the agency of the Citi Golf concept. Like the VW Dealership campaign, the agency fought for this, based on a real understanding of the market and a nose for opportunity. Asking "What if?" Not only did it build immense value for the client over many years, it again built a new revenue and creative opportunity for the agency. Oh, and created a brand that South Africans adored. Watch how consumers said an emotional goodbye when eventually VW discontinued the Citi Golf,  in the link below.

5. They looked after their most important assets - their people.

Bob says they liked to say that their most important assets went down the elevators and out the front door at night. Wallop tells the story of a company that looked after their people. Were they relentless? Yes. Were they demanding and did they fire people? Sure. But it seems they did a few things right.

One, they created a culture where mavericks wanted to work. They attracted them and then they hired them when no-one else would. Agencies are not "corporates" and despite the best efforts of global holding companies and accountants in trying to turn them into corporately behaved businesses, they can't be, shouldn't be and won't ever be.

More than this they looked after their people - one example was when they fired a big big big Client because the junior marketing person was slowly sucking the life out of the creative department refers. Your people are your assets. And if they're depressed, your asset loses its immense value.

In my Adtherapy work, I see people in agencies dying in the trenches without management support. I see Account Management being mowed down by rude and disrespectful (and unskilled) clients; I see Creatives with hunched shoulders, working till 3am night after night and being expected to be creative the next day. This cannot be. The success of any agency lies in keeping your talented people inspired and motivated (and employed by you not your competitor). Sometimes  this means you have to go to war for them.

RSTM helped their people grow too. They invested in training. They ran successful workshop programmes which not only allowed people to bond and create friendships but also to hone their skills. Sadly in many agencies this is an expense that has been cut. Talk about not doing the cost-benefit analysis properly. Better skills make better business.

Another aspect of looking after their people was building a culture in which every person felt they played a part. An open attitude to where ideas come from. A shared interest in the campaign being sold and working well. Too many agencies use polarising language that put people in siloes. Like Creatives talking to Account Management about "Your Client", and Account Management discussing "Your Work" with Creatives. This book highlights a time and a culture where everyone was invested in the client getting the best work. Everyone cared. So the Clients did too.

6. Strong, focused (and aligned) leadership.

This was an interesting one, because it plays out so well in the agencies that are successful today. Strong leadership is required in order to have the difficult conversations that are so necessary in this business, both internally and with clients, suppliers and others. But aligned leadership is even more important. The leaders at the top being on the same page.

Bob says "we knew the type of work we wanted to do, and worked together to make that happen". It was never about the money, or keeping business, or meeting budgets. It was about the work. And that was across the board. Too many Account Management and MD's in my opinion believe its okay to throw the work under the wheels and rather do what the client wants. "Keep the peace and collect the cash".  Short-term thinking.

7. A company wide commitment to aim higher than you ever thought was possible.

This comes through in the commitment to "the work, the work, the work". It was quite simply all about the work. And the question was asked - is it good enough?  Work was developed, it was crafted, it was made better. Always. And the best suppliers, the best film makers, the most impossible ideas were made possible. Which made them great.

Somehow in this era of time-sheets and budget cuts and reduced margins, this commitment and passion for excellence falls by the way. Work is "okay" enough to leave the building. There's an air of compromise. Suppliers are chosen based on staying in budget. And maybe that's just the way of the world. But funnily enough, big ideas generally make big returns that make up for the expense upfront. Not just in advertising - in business. But it takes courage to motivate for that upfront investment. Lesson: be bold and brave. Be courageous.

8. An ethical compass - politically and personally.

The book starts with how Bob got fired from a previous company for what was deemed to be a 'bribe'. This drove his unwavering enforcement of ethics in the company that he, Brian and Roger sought to build. Their ethics came through in how they treated people, it came through in wanting to do the right thing politically, it came through in ensuring that the agency was above board in everything they did.

What agencies don't always understand is that their clients are distrustful of them anyway. Advertising is expensive. Clients imagine that agencies are crooking the books. Dodgy business practices seek only to weaken the industry and have no place in the relationships that need to be built in order to get great work.

9. Fun, more fun and then more on top of that.

People who have never worked in advertising think it's one long party. In fact I had a rule never ever to hire anyone who started an interview with "I've always wanted to work in advertising". It's a relentless, tough, ego-smashing, challenging, sometimes impossible, sometimes soul destroying, job, and it takes a certain type of person to thrive and excel in that space.

It involves long hours and lots of arguments and tempers and yet there is also lots of laughter. People who work in advertising generally have great senses of humour (thank heavens). Part of RSTM's success was creating an environment where people could have fun. Where they could let their hair down, and laugh or cry and run naked across the rooftop, then dust themselves off for another great day at the office.

10. They made money.

Agencies have a tough time these days in between being told what their hourly rates can be, what deliverables they can and can't charge for, how big the logo should be, in addition to marketing budgets being divided amongst more and more specialist agencies or going in-house. Applying all of the nine points above would be pointless without making enough money to pay your talent well, have decent premises, invest in training and inspirational activities and grow a great business.

What comes through in Wallop is that their mission was never "how do we get rich"? There was never a plan to build a great culture because that would make them money. Instead there was a fanatical obsession with making the very best advertising they could for their clients, and an obsession about helping their clients solve their business challenges. And that, in the end, helped them make money.

Valuable lessons.

So, those are ten thoughts from three veterans who were part of putting South Africa on the international map of advertising, that I feel are useful to ponder. I'm sure there are more.

Read the book, reminisce about ads you (or your parents) might remember on the website

But above all, think about the basic principles: 

Agency: Focus on the creative product and look after your people. 
Marketer: Invest in relationships with your ad agency at the top and let them be creative.

Both: Be courageous. 

All else will follow.


Adtherapy's mantra is better skills, better relationships, better results. 
We have a number of ways in which we work with agencies and marketers to make that happen. Read our website to see some examples. 
Better yet, mail or phone 0832659099 to chat about how we can help you.