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.

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