The Value Of Creativity

Posted by Opinion desk on 6 Jun, 2012 / Features

By FoxP2 group MD Charl Thom

FoxP2 entered The Apex Awards for the first time this year. At the awards ceremony held last week, we were awarded three of the ten awards handed out on the night, which included one gold.

There were only two gold awards, which meant The Apex Awards’ reputation of being a tough award show to win at, remained intact. In fact, the ten awards handed out were down from fifteen awarded the year before.

Why is this significant?

The results back up our long held view that the most creative work is also the most effective work. The campaigns that were awarded at Apex, Frank.net and brandhouse Drive Dry, were also two of the most successful campaigns at the 2011 Loerie Awards – Drive Dry and Frank.net were the first and eighth most awarded brands at the local show (they were also recognised at a number of international award shows, including Cannes and D&AD). The ACA (Association for Communication and Advertising) backed Apex awards on the other hand, recognise the commercial significance and creative innovation of advertising and communication campaigns. So unlike purely creative award shows, competing agencies are required to use substantiated data and facts to prove that their campaigns have had a clear and quantified impact on the respective clients’ business.

Contrary to our view on the effectiveness of creativity, there are some groups of marketing and advertising professionals that firmly believe campaigns that are creatively successful can’t be commercially successful, and vice versa. This view has come about for two reasons. Firstly, many (often junior) marketing professionals do not understand the potential impact that a strategically driven but brilliantly creative campaign can have on their business results. It has the power to transform their business by delivering a disproportionate return on marketing Rands. Due to corporate structures however, brilliant creative ideas often get killed in the early stages of their life when they are at their most fragile. This frequently happens at a relatively junior level, before the work makes it to a more experienced set of eyeballs higher up in the chain of command (although there isn’t always a direct correlation between many years of experience and the ability to recognise brilliant piece of commercial creativity).

Why is the potential impact of great work not recognised by some marketing managers? Because if it’s truly creative work, it means it hasn’t been done before, which means its potential can’t be measured against best practice examples. And this is unfortunately what too many multi-national corporate brands teach marketing managers – to follow best practice. This approach will never yield exceptional results. While it’s understandable that large corporations have to put systems in place to counter the law of averages when it comes to managing talent in their organisation, they need to encourage and accommodate innovative, creative thinking, or employees’ decision making processes will be motivated and governed by a simple desire to protect their job. This is the inevitable byproduct of a corporate structure riddled with systems and processes. Some forward thinking multinationals, like our client Unilever, will win this battle because they recognise the need to liberate the thinking of their troops, and you will find them in Silicon Valley and Cannes every year, where they ensure they keep up with and in some cases drive what is happening at the sharp end of consumer communication and creativity.

The second reason is that for too long too many agencies have done work that does not distinguish between artistic creativity and commercial creativity. Whilst good artistic creativity (a rare skill) plays a significant role in ensuring the brilliant execution of a campaign, commercial creativity must be at the heart of solving a business problem. Ignoring the importance of commercial creative thinking versus purely artistic creative thinking, as described above, has landed the industry with a negative reputation – for doing creative work, for the sake of creativity, and limited regard for the commercial impact. However, the results delivered for Frank.net and brandhouse Drive Dry, along with many other campaigns that performed well at both The Apex Awards and The Loeries over the years, proves that this argument does not hold true across the board. On a budget that is a fraction of competitor budgets, Frank.net sold One Billion Rand in direct cover during it’s first 4 months of operation. This number grew to Five Billion Rand after 12 months, and after 18 months in business, our client has sold Eleven Billion Rand in direct cover. The brandhouse Drive Dry campaign returned five times the amount of South African earned media versus the value of the actual budget invested. The international publicity of this campaign was not measured, but it was significant, as the campaign drew attention in Europe, Australia and North America.

This argument is however, not only based on the above example of dual success at The Apex and Loeries. It is backed up by a 2010 study* whereby the United Kingdom’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) merged the data from the IPA Effectiveness Awards (their version of The Apex awards) with the results of the Gunn Report (the Gunn Report is compiled from various data sources to create their highly respected annual creative league tables) to prove that there is a direct link between creativity and effectiveness. The study analysed 435 campaigns over a 16-year period, starting in 1994, and the results are compelling:

• Over the past 16 years, creatively awarded campaigns have been seven times more efficient than non-awarded ones. Between 2003 and 2012, they were twelve times more efficient.

• Creatively awarded campaigns are becoming more efficient over time. Non-awarded campaigns are becoming less so. This is because of the ‘buzz’ or viral effect caused by consumers sharing campaigns on social networks.

• The efficiency gap between awarded non-awarded campaigns appears to widen in the FMCG sector, suggesting creativity may be even more valuable for packaged goods.

• The more creatively awarded a campaign, the more effective it becomes. Campaigns picking up five or more creative awards are around three times as efficient as campaigns winning between one and four major awards.

• The benefit of creativity increases as the budget rises but can be negated if it’s cut too far.

• Awards judges who choose emotional campaigns – those that attempt to change feelings towards a brand – are also selecting in favour of effectiveness. Emotional campaigns work better than those just providing information.

• The link between creativity and effectiveness in not-for-profit campaigns remains unproven. This may be to do with the fact that awards judges are less influenced by emotionally charged creative work in this sector.

What’s the bottom line?

Strategically sound commercial creativity works, and it’s going to work even better as the digital information age continues its inevitable explosion. The report points to this fact, which was also a clear success factor in both the Frank.net and brandhouse Drive Dry campaigns: as social media plays a bigger and bigger part in the lives of our consumers every day, the success of campaigns are going to be linked inextricably closely to the creativity of campaigns. No one sends a dull piece of creativity to their friends, and over time, social media’s viral effect will nullify the deep pockets of big brands that rely on applying expensive media pressure behind average creative to beat competitors. The smartest marketers will make their companies competitive by using the power of creativity to amplify the voices of their brands in all forms of media. This approach will position and build their brands in a manner that makes each marketing Rand work exponentially harder, and makes the campaign significantly more effective than a campaign that does not have the advantage of social media amplification. In fact, if the brand’s creative work is not talked about in future, the brand will become a modern day social (media) outcast, it really is as simple as that.

The view of the conservative marketers has also led to them “procuring” agency partners and commercial creativity in a commoditised fashion, but more about this in my next post.

* The source for the IPA / Gunn Report study results is the 17 June 2011 issue of Campaign.

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