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Unleashing the Power of Creative Advertising

If you were to ask a seasoned advertising professional about the key to success in the industry, you'd likely hear an echo of Stephan Vogel, Ogilvy & Mather Germany’s chief creative officer: “Nothing is more efficient than creative advertising. Creative advertising is more memorable, longer lasting, works with less media spending, and builds a fan community…faster.

However, a critical question arises: Are creative advertisements more effective at motivating people to purchase products than those that simply list product attributes or benefits? While laboratory experiments have demonstrated that creative ads capture more attention and generate positive attitudes toward the products being promoted, concrete evidence linking these creative messages to actual purchase behavior remains scarce. This lack of empirical research has left product and brand managers, as well as the agencies pitching to them, navigating the world of creative advertising as something of a gamble.

Leveraging insights from communications psychology, we have crafted a consumer survey method to assess perceived creativity along five dimensions. This innovative approach was applied in a comprehensive study of 437 TV advertising campaigns for 90 fast-moving consumer goods brands in Germany from January 2005 to October 2010. A panel of trained consumer raters evaluated the creativity of these ads, and their perceptions were then examined about the sales performance of the products advertised. These product categories, including body lotion, chewing gum, coffee, cola and lemonade, detergent, facial care, shampoo, shavers, and yogurt, are all highly competitive and invest significantly in advertising.

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Its findings provide compelling evidence that creativity indeed matters. More creative campaigns are, on the whole, considerably more effective. Moreover, they have discovered that certain dimensions of creativity have a more pronounced influence on purchasing behavior, and many companies may be emphasizing the wrong dimensions in their campaigns. By tailoring this survey model to align with the cultural preferences and triggers of consumers in various geographic markets, companies worldwide can greatly enhance their ability to predict the potential effectiveness of their creative ads and, in turn, make more informed investments.

Defining Creativity

In order to measure creativity, we drew inspiration from the fields of social and educational psychology, which define creativity as divergent thinking – the ability to find unconventional and non-obvious solutions to problems. Relying on five dimensions to gauge creativity in advertising:

  1. Originality: An original ad features elements that are uncommon or surprising, departing from the ordinary and cliché. These ads focus on the uniqueness of ideas or features and can utilize unique visual or verbal solutions.

  2. Flexibility: High-scoring ads on flexibility effortlessly connect the product to various uses or ideas. They showcase the versatility of the product, such as a commercial for coffee demonstrating its role in different domestic situations.

  3. Elaboration: Elaborative ads introduce unexpected details or extend simple ideas to make them more intricate and complex. For example, a yogurt ad may reveal the resemblance between a woman's tongue and a strawberry.

  4. Synthesis: This dimension of creativity involves blending or connecting typically unrelated objects or concepts. For instance, a gum commercial features rabbits fed fruit to represent the effect of chewing gum on their teeth.

  5. Artistic Value: Ads with high artistic creativity incorporate aesthetically pleasing visual, verbal, or auditory elements. They are produced with a high level of quality and often perceived as art rather than blatant sales pitches.

In our research, a panel of trained consumer raters scored German TV ad campaigns on each of these dimensions on a scale of 1 to 7, with the campaign's overall creativity rating being the average of these scores. We then examined the relationships between each campaign's creativity score, its advertising budget, and its relative sales effectiveness.

Key Findings

Our research uncovered significant variation in overall creativity scores among the campaigns, with an average score of 2.98 (on a scale of 1 to 7). The lowest score was 1.0, while the highest reached 6.2. Importantly, the creativity scores had a substantial impact: a euro invested in a highly creative ad campaign had nearly double the sales impact of a euro spent on a less creative campaign. This impact tended to grow as the campaign continued.

Two important discoveries:

  1. Different Dimensions, Different Influence: While all dimensions of creativity positively influenced sales, elaboration had the most substantial impact, followed by artistic value. Originality and flexibility came next, with synthesis trailing behind. This indicates that many companies tend to focus on originality, although other dimensions might be more effective in driving sales.

  2. Categories and Creativity: The levels of creativity vary significantly across product categories. Categories such as cola and coffee favor higher levels of creativity in advertising, while those related to products with clear consumer goals, like shampoo and detergent, tend to focus on demonstrating the product's use in an idealized setting. However, introducing additional creativity had differing effects across categories, sometimes boosting sales and sometimes diminishing them.

Measuring Campaign Effectiveness

Its research has profound implications for both advertising agencies and the companies they serve. Advertising professionals can use these methods to better direct their creative efforts, while companies can utilize the models to estimate the financial impact of their creative investments. In many cases, companies may discover that they are underinvesting in creativity, leaving potential profits on the table.

Its research unequivocally shows that by allocating resources more effectively, companies can generate substantially better sales results. This information is invaluable for making informed decisions, from budget allocation to creative pitch choices. Ultimately, creativity is a powerful tool in advertising, and understanding how to harness it effectively can make the difference between a lackluster campaign and a resounding success. So, make creativity work for you, and maximize the return on your advertising investments.


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Resource: Havard Business Review


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