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It’s The Creative, Stupid: 3 Reasons Why Ad Creative Trumps Technology Every Time
At a time when digital marketers are swimming in data, columnist Peter Minnium reminds us to strike a balance between technology-driven targeting and creativity.
Marketers, agencies, publishers, and especially technology companies get so caught up in the potential of technology and data to optimize the delivery of an ad to the right person at the right time in the most efficient manner possible, that they often lose sight of a fundamental truth: the ad creative has to be good, or it’s all for naught.
Admittedly, I am biased, having worked for the first part of my career in the creative advertising business at agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi, Young & Rubicam and Lowe. I learned this lesson the hard way, in fact. I first started my profession working on several Procter & Gamble brands, including Puffs Facial Tissues. (Remember that brilliant slogan, “first aid for your sore nose”? Yes, that was me.)
When I got that account, I thought I had died and gone to heaven; after all, working on P&G at the time, it was said, was better than getting a marketing MBA. The research, the strategic rigor, the commitment to data-based decision making — these were the stuff of legend, and I was a young sponge, soaking it all in. I was convinced that if I could master that system, it would give me a fool-proof way to win converts for any product and build great brands.
Finally, after three years of hard work and intense study, I finally mastered it. I had enough experience and knowledge to realize a fundamental truth: I had been dead wrong.
I learned that great strategy without great creative is like clapping with one hand.
To remedy my professional imbalance, I then went to work at what was the country’s most creative advertising agency at the time, Cliff Freeman & Partners, on the Little Caesars Pizza account. There, I learned about the power of creative ideas to transform businesses and inspire consumers.
With all due respect to that fast feeder, quality was not its top-selling proposition, and so the job of the advertising was to essentially re-motivate the entire demand base every six weeks with a new reason to visit. The advertising did that in spades.
When I joined the IAB, I brought with me a fundamental belief in the need for balance. In the past, I fought for a balance between strategy and creativity, and I now find myself fighting a similar fight, this time between technology-driven targeting and creativity.
And, just as I learned early on, it’s clearly true that great technology without great creativity is also like clapping with one hand.
Just because I am biased about creativity does not mean that I am wrong. However, for the doubting Thomases among us, there is no need to take my word for it. The facts speak for themselves:
1. Creative Quality Is Four Times More Important Than Media Plan Quality In Driving Sales
This study from comScore, at four years old, may be getting a bit of grey at the temples, but the findings are as clear and startling to me today as when I first read the report.
The findings, based on extensive research conducted by comScore ARS at the time, showed that creative quality drives more than half of the sales changes for the brands analyzed, four times higher than the impact of the specific media plan involved.
Commenting on the study, comScore noted:
“Based on our years of research in this space, we’ve determined that the quality of the creative is four times more important than the characteristics of the media plan in generating sales. In fact, creative is the single most important factor and accounts for over half the changes in a brand’s sales over time.”
The company continued:
“Getting the creative right is absolutely essential, and yet its importance so often gets minimized in the process of developing an ad campaign. Now is the time for advertisers using digital, as well as more traditional media, to get serious about optimizing their creative on the front end so they don’t get a rude awakening when the ads don’t work and they are left wondering what went wrong.”
2. Creative Quality Is Five Times More Important Than Targeting In Driving Ad Awareness
This is not just a U.S. phenomenon, as demonstrated by “The Power of Creation,” the largest and most comprehensive study of perception and impact of online display creative in the German market. Published in 2013, this study included an in-lab component and a benchmark analysis of 270 studies and 40,000 survey participants. No small feat. (The study can be accessed here, with a link to an English download at page bottom.)
Up to half of the probability that an ad will be looked at depends on the creative itself (47.3%); this is five times more important than targeting (10.7%). How long the attention is then focused on the ad is as equally driven by the creative (30.1%) as the targeting (32.8%.)
The study further concluded that creative quality is a key driver of the awareness and impact of an ad. Specifically, high-quality creative increases ad viewing time six times (5.8x) and nearly doubles purchase intent (+93%) vs. low-quality creative. In addition, up to half of the probability that an ad will be looked at depends on the creative itself (47.3%).
3. Better Creative Yields Greater Engagement & Brand Lift
The IAB (my employer) continues to study the impact of its standard ad canvasses and has concluded unequivocally that ad standards that allow for greater creativity are more impactful than those that offer less space and interactivity to do so.
Each of these studies looked at the same ad creative in a legacy, UAP standard format (e.g., 300×250) vs. an IAB Rising Stars (e.g., Billboard) — while holding the media or lab exposure environment constant. While not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, these studies show clearly that the more creative executions have higher engagement and brand impact.
The display advertising research has been referenced in this column previously. Subsequently, IAB published the final results of a Mobile Rising Stars ad effectiveness study as well as a survey of Digital Video Rising Stars effectiveness evidence.
The mobile findings mirror those of display, showing that consumers are twice as likely to interact with a Mobile Rising Star ad as a standard mobile ad and have significantly higher brand perceptions (24% more likely to recall brand message) after interacting with a Mobile Rising Star ad.
The digital video data shows interaction rates over three times higher, significant increases in brand lift, and found that adding interactivity to video ads meaningfully improves completion rates.
In our frenzy to deploy new tools to find and advertise to prospects in the most efficient manner possible, we too-often leave creative as an afterthought. Smart marketers, agencies, and publishers understand that this is not an either/or situation. These experts know that ad effectiveness is optimal when great creative is matched with great targeting, enabled by the latest technology and data tools.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.