Emphasis on tech and a ‘misuse’ of creativity is undermining effectiveness

Two recent reports suggest that marketing and advertising creativity is being undermined by an over-emphasis on short-term goals and the unrelenting pursuit of tech-based solutions.

The reports suggest that both clients and agencies bear responsibility for this “creative crisis,” by emphasizing short-terms wins (along with Lions and Pencils) over brand-building and over-investing in tech at the expense of creativity.

Saying that it’s time to “reinvent creativity,” Forrester analyst Jay Pattisall said recently that agencies’ creative perspective—which he called “the very currency of the business”—is at risk. We have overfunded technology and underfunded creativity, he said.

That over-reliance on technology to meet customer demand for ease and convenience means that the “front door” to a brand is increasingly a web or app experience that is virtually indistinguishable from that of a competitor, he said.

“Fashion experiences look the same,” he said. “Quick-service restaurant and coffee apps allow you to order ahead and skip the line. All airline apps allow travellers to check in, manage travel, and use a mobile device as their boarding pass.

“What can make one brand different from another when the experience is built from the same common technology platform, designed to solve the same user or category need, and programmed for the same two devices? Creativity.”

But at the time they need it most, business leaders are underinvesting in creativity at the expense of technology. Forrester expects to a see 9-11% growth in spending for ad-tech, martech, data and analytics through 2022, while agency spending will increase just 2.4%.

According to Forrester, moving a portion of marketing budgets out of technology and into agency creativity will yield a higher ROI compared to current spend models, delivering a six-year growth plan for CMOs it says will help achieve 20% growth for the entire industry.

“These are not new dollars but rather a reallocation of currently projected spending that maintains significant ad-tech and mar-tech investments,” said Pattisall, who said that agencies need to innovate in terms of their structures, capabilities, workforce and processes, bringing together data, technology, media and creative to put problem-solving at the centre.

“It means agencies leaders will need to make consolidation and coordination a priority,” he wrote. “Tough decisions must be made in the name of agency brand coherence and a model that is easier for clients to engage. Training today’s workforce to be tomorrow’s data-, technology-, and creative-literate is critical. And creative departments must embrace data- and tech-driven creativity.”

At the same time, a new study from the IPA (Britain’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) found that the industry’s continued emphasis on “short-termism” means that creatively awarded campaigns are less effective than they’ve been in nearly a quarter-century, and “no more effective” than non-awarded campaigns.

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Based on almost 600 case studies from 1996 to 2018, The Crisis in Creative Effectiveness report said that creatively awarded campaigns in the pre-financial crisis period of 1996 to 2008 were roughly 12 times as effective as non-awarded campaigns, but fell to less than four times as efficient between 2006 and 2018. “It continues to fall and creativity is almost certainly delivering no overall efficiency advantage today,” the study says.

The problem, says the IPA, is a continued shift towards “short-term, disposable and ultimately inefficient” creativity, with the percentage of budgets allocated towards brand-building efforts in the IPA case studies database falling from 85% in 2002 to 62% in 2018 (see chart below).

The IPA says that the problem is being further exacerbated by awards show judges increasingly awarding campaigns that use what it calls “disposable creativity” in the pursuit of short-term goals.

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“This has encouraged and rewarded a short-term mindset, even though a short-term focus means those campaigns will inevitably under-perform in the long term,” the study notes.

The IPA calls the trend “worrying” because short-term creative campaigns are an average of 50% less effective than long-term awarded campaigns. “In the short-term, creativity doesn’t sell, so the judges’ strong drift towards favouring short-termism inevitably results in declining average effectiveness levels amongst awarded campaigns,” the study notes.

The IPA admits that it doesn’t know why judges are increasingly favouring short-term campaigns, but does note that, on average, they allocated 2.5 times more of their budget to online media than the long-term campaigns they are replacing. “Perhaps judges just prefer digitally focused campaigns or data-driven creativity?” it states.

Chris Powell