Anyone who has seen a commercial during the Super Bowl will probably concede right away that, yes, creative advertising is good advertising.
We all remember ads that are funny, off-the-wall, absurd, or otherwise “different”, right? Zany Facebook ads go viral. The most clever ads are talked about the next day at work.
It’s easy to draw the conclusion that creative is innately better.
But is such a simple conclusion truly accurate?
As marketers, we’re very much concerned with facts and figures. The job demands that we operate on assumptions and gut instinct from time to time, but we always prefer to have data to support what we’re doing.
So how do we measure something as intangible as creativity?
The first step is determining what we mean by “creativity” as it applies to advertising. For that, we can turn to the work of Ellis Paul Torrance, an American psychologist who developed the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) to assess capacity for divergent thinking in the business world.
Torrance’s metrics were later adapted by Indiana University communications researcher Robert Smith to apply specifically to the aspects of creativity that apply to advertising, giving us these key axes:
Original ads involve elements that are surprising, uncommon, or unexpected. By being divergent from what’s normal in advertising a specific product or service, the focus is turned toward the uniqueness of the concept rather than specific features.
For instance, an MSP ad that shows someone fixing a computer is unoriginal, whereas an ad that shows an IT professional waving a magic wand that makes all of his clients happy is unusual and unexpected.
When an ad connects an offering to wide variety of uses or solutions, it’s considered flexible.
A flexible IT Channel ad might demonstrate the technical features of a product, but also illustrate the benefits that each department in a client’s business would see from using it.
This involves the use of details and oft-overlooked elements to make the message more complex and intricate.
For instance, an MSP commercial could show a boss walking through his office and being greeted warmly by every employee because their technology is working without issue — while floating charts above their heads illustrate their productivity increasing.
I would posit that synthesis is a fundamental concept in creativity — the blending of seemingly-unrelated ideas or images to create something new.
An example would be showing an office where all of the computers are barking and misbehaving like untrained dogs before an IT professional arrives and makes them respond to commands. This combination of concepts relates to people who have dealt with unruly pets and shows the power of a professional to make their lives easier.
This metric is sometimes difficult to measure, as it involves the largely subconscious impact that an ad has on the audience. This is where production value and quality of execution comes into play.
Ads with superior design, beautiful imagery, memorable music, or the ability to evoke strong emotions can all qualify.
Measuring the Effectiveness of Creativity
The Harvard Business Journal conducted a study based on the above metrics in an attempt to correlate creativity to advertising effectiveness.
By measuring creativity scores, ad spend, and sales effectiveness, this study was able to draw a number of unexpected conclusions.
1. Creativity did not always equal success.
There was no unilateral determination that “creative ads are better”. A number of factors appear to influence the outcome of creative advertising.
2. Creative campaigns take time to build momentum.
One factor that had a large effect on the results was time. Creative campaigns that ran longer were more effective as they gained momentum. In fact, many highly-creative campaigns were shown to have relatively poor results early on, but over time grew to produce nearly 100% greater ROI than their non-creative counterparts.
3. Certain creativity metrics affect the campaign differently.
Different combinations of originality, synthesis, flexibility, elaboration, and artistic value were compared during the study, and they each performed quite differently. Overall, it was shown that originality and elaboration were the most powerful combination, with originality and artistic value a close second. Flexibility and synthesis scored low across the board. Originality alone also scores rather low.
4. The effectiveness of creativity depends on the industry and product.
As you might expect, different product categories responded differently to the use of creative advertising. This study focused entirely on consumer products in a B2C setting, but even within this sector the results varied. It was found that creativity had its greatest impact on products that are tied to personal preference rather than outcomes.
Noteworthy for our purposes is that the study concluded that adding creativity in a traditionally low-creativity category reliably produced a net gain.
In the MSP marketing space, we’re left to draw many of our own conclusions from the above results. B2C retail has differences from B2B services that make it impossible to carry over the data 1:1.
Even if the data carries over with a 25% margin of error, I would surmise that creative advertising is still more likely to produce results (bearing in mind duration of the campaign; see point #2 above). Again, the IT Channel is not flush with creative marketing right now, so the ability to leverage the unique approach (See point #4 above) applies for the time being.
Knowing what we do about the “type” of creativity that appears to convert in marketing, we would be wise to focus on artistic value, elaboration, and originality, as this combination produces the most consistent positive result.
Most importantly, we should always remember that creativity doesn’t just apply to the advertising itself. We should always strive to be creative in how we position ourselves in the market and how we approach the challenges that face our businesses.