Creativity can just as easily drive a business into receivership as it can to the Forbes 100 list. While some would accuse creativity of being all smoke and mirrors, the practicalities remain, and at some point you will need both a smoke machine and at least two mirrors to deliver.
Such mastery reminds us that even the most skilled professional still relies upon the laws of physics; combining both art and science to deliver success. The best advertising creative requires the same fundamentals for success.
For the last couple of years the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science has had a strong presence at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, with Associate Professor Rachel Kennedy, Professor Byron Sharp, Dr Virginia Beal, Dr Nicole Hartnett and Industry Professor Bruce McColl all travelling to Cannes to connect with the world’s best advertisers.
And, from Dame Helen Mirren discussing diversity with L’Oreal, to YouTube leaders conversing about the changing face of creative content, the role of creativity in business is, more than ever, under the microscope.
So how does UniSA’s science-driven Ehrenberg-Bass Institute join the conversation on creativity?
“Empirically derived laws of marketing science tells us where we should be creative and where we should not,” says Kennedy. “These scientific laws offer parameters within which brands can be confident that they’re spending their advertising dollars in the right way.
“At the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, we bring empirically grounded knowledge about brands and advertising to the Cannes Festival with the full support of our clients, many of which appear at Cannes as some of the world’s biggest brands. The lessons for advertising creativity are fundamental.
This year, Kennedy and Beal’s Cannes presentation How To Be a Smart Targeter offered insights into the current trend of targeting too narrowly, concluding it might not be the best answer to a brand owner’s marketing prayers if profitable brand growth is the long run goal.
A year earlier, Dr Nicole Hartnett, along with Kennedy gave a talk about Creative That Sells—an in depth study of the effectiveness of more than 150 creative tactics. Here too, Professor Sharp gave a provocative talk titled What if everyone is doing it wrong? Challenging the institutionalised beliefs in the advertising industry.
That same year, Bruce McColl—then the Chief Marketing Officer for Mars—was named Advertiser of the Year, and a year later, he joined the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute as our first Industry Professor. His passion for evidence-based marketing and creative success is a lovely demonstration of how art and science can work together.
Together, the Ehrenberg-Bass team presents strong, empirically sound findings on advertising, creativity and media / brand strategy—all key elements to successfully grow a brand.
Indeed, what first appears as two very separate aspects of advertising performance —creativity and media strategy—are actually two sides of the same coin. “Not even the best creative will save a bad media strategy, and a great media strategy won’t get far with bad creative,” says Beal.
“Marketing science shows us where we can be creative, how best to use creative tactics and, importantly, how best to deploy our media strategies.”
WHO SHOULD WE AIM TO REACH WITH OUR ADVERTISING?
Communicating with an audience is at the heart of advertising, with targeting and segmentation traditionally being put forward as practical steps to achieve this.
The temptation for marketing professionals is to want to communicate as personally as possible. Today’s online platforms and digital technology enable such targeting (at least in) in theory in ways that were historically only dreamed of.
Individual level online targeting is behind that eerie feeling you have when you log onto Facebook and a conspicuous ad tries to sell you a t-shirt with your favourite movie, and the month in which you were born craftily encapsulated in the slogan.
The premise behind targeting is that by finely segmenting your market you’re delivering customised messages to defined audiences, and that in doing so, you’ll achieve greater successes from your advertising efforts. And, given all the information we share online—personal details (like age, gender or location, taken from personal accounts); preferences (in music, clothing, or foods, taken from online shopping experiences); and even online behaviours (like viewed articles on car safety, or insurance options, taken from your search history)—it’s no wonder that personalised targeting is touted as the next big thing. But is it really? Evidence suggests otherwise.
“At first glance individual level targeting seems logical but when you match it up against the need to grow brands through broad reach, it doesn’t hold up,” says Beal.
“Not to mention the fact that you start to lose efficiency gains when you’re crafting so many pieces of advertising creative to try to match each segment and platform.”
“To prepare a great dish, there are lots of other ingredients you need. Too much emphasis on targeting leads to actions that miss the big picture of what you need to focus on for growth.”
The resounding message is that your focus should be on creating and refreshing your unique brand identity and distinctive brand assets, because that is how your customers, heavy or light buyers, will identify your products.
THE EHRENBERG-BASS TEAM SPECIFIES FIVE STEPS TO SMARTER TARGETING FOR BRANDS THAT WANT TO GROW
Make your target market definitions evidence-based.
Check your vision of the brand’s target market and the evidence of who actually buys the product category.
Include as many as possible in your target market.
Sure, if you’re selling dog food, exclude people who don’t own dogs, but think inclusion where ever possible rather than exclusion. Some people who do not currently have a dog may come into the market and having a presence in their memories as a pet food brand will then not be all wasted.
Avoid the heavy-buyer trap.
There’s not much to be gained just by targeting heavy brand buyers; your growth will come from the large pool of category buyers who do not currently buy you as well as your occasional or light buyers.
Don’t sacrifice reach for engagement.
Engagement feels good and may even be more satisfying creatively, but if it doesn’t reach a wide audience it won’t deliver the extra sales you need.
Have broadly appealing creative.
Developing winning creative is a difficult task, pool resources to develop fewer winning pieces of creative that appeal to the broad target audience rather than spreading effort across many targeted pieces of creative. It is also likely to aid consistency of branding across people and across time.
YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS MINE, OR IS IT?
Imagine if creating successful ads wasn’t such an intuitive guessing game. Well, press hold on that thought for a moment, because research from the Ehrenberg-Bass team removes some of the guesswork: they provide evidence-based tactical advice for advertising that sells (clearly suggesting that some creative tactics are better than others).
The great American advertising creative director, Bill Bernbach once said, “Creativity will become the last unfair advantage we’re legally allowed to take over our competitors.” It's a long-professed claim and one that still hold strong today.
But wait there’s more—assessing the sales effectiveness of more than 150 ad creative tactics, the Ehrenberg-Bass team has shown which tactics could increase or decrease the odds of advertising success.
And they warn that no ad can be universally effective across everyone.
“There is no magic formula for the perfect ad,” says Hartnett. “A formula implies that some combination of tactics will appeal to everyone; but we know different people will have different reactions to the same ad. There is no uniform response.
“Though we can’t provide a miracle solution to deliver successful advertising each and every time, we now have a better understanding of what makes a good ad that appeals to more people. And this can help marketers make informed choices throughout the creative process.”
“Creativity is the vehicle for your brand’s advertising to be noticed; it cannot be creativity for creativity’s sake. If we pay careful attention to what actually works related to sales, we can use this knowledge to frame the production of more creative and effective content.”
Creativity itself is fundamentally subjective, hinging on feelings that something is new and perhaps exciting—what one person finds creative could leave another shrugging or simply clicking through to the next thing. By its very nature, creativity is a contextual beast, which is why it so easily eludes measurement. Yet when harnessed effectively, and by using empirical knowledge, creativity can absolutely attract consumers and grow brands.
So rather than trying to create an actual measure of creativity, our research dismantles creativity, breaking it down into objective creative tactics and strategies that can be codified.
The question is not how creative is this tactic, but rather, does this creative tactic appear in a successful ad or not? With new technology and increasingly larger data sets, there is great potential to take this research agenda further.