Why creativity is underrated

Profitable campaigns rely on great creative. Are marketers ignoring this, and could better testing improve returns?
29 October 2020
Creativity ad testing
Duncan Southgate

Senior Director, Creative & Media Solutions, Kantar

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When publishing a new report, you never quite know what people will find most interesting. But the key finding in my recent “advertising multipliers” article became clear very shortly after it went live. “Marketers underestimate the role of creativity” was the headline in Marketing Week, and I was invited to speak at Mediatel’s Future of Creativity event to explain “why creativity is underrated”.

To recap in case you missed it, the advertising multipliers report contrasted econometric evidence about ten factors that drive advertising profitability, with the opinions of global marketers. The evidence shows creativity is comfortably the second most important factor behind brand size, whereas marketers rate it only fourth. So why do we see this divide?

The main reason creativity is such a powerful multiplier is that there’s a huge gap between the best and worst ads, both in their ability to drive short-term sales and to build long-term brand equity. The most creative and effective ads such as the magical “Unsung Hero” YouTube ad from Milka manage to trigger all the right emotions and strongly convey their brand’s meaningful difference. Unfortunately, these award-winners are the exception rather than the rule, since many ads still fail to deliver on the basics of being well branded or sufficiently distinctive to get noticed.

Perhaps marketers underestimate the role of creative because no-one sets out to make a bad ad, and it’s generally not the bad ads that grab the news headlines? Or perhaps it’s because many bad ads are never even measured? Our recent survey of global marketers showed that 42% of marketers are testing very little of their creative, primarily due to concerns about cost and speed. However, these problems have largely gone away in recent years, with the advent of rapid and cost-effective automated testing solutions such as the Link and Context Lab solutions on Kantar Marketplace, which provide testing results in as little as 6 hours.

A second reason creativity is such a big multiplier is that more diverse and fragmented advertising contexts have increased the need for customisation, particularly within the digital space. We know that context is critical. The same ad can work much better on YouTube vs. Facebook, or vice versa. Customising to specific digital contexts has also been shown to ensure ads are viewed for longer and have stronger brand impact. Perhaps marketers under-estimate this because customisation is not considered “real” creative work? In any case, only 49% of global advertisers are confident about how they are tailoring creative executions to different channels.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic we know that marketers are more willing to try something new and are relying more on digital media to ensure greater agility. According to Kantar’s Media Reactions, marketers plan to increase digital media investment in 2021, most notably for online video with 65% more marketers likely to increase spend rather than decrease it.

Marketers are currently most comfortable with the YouTube, Instagram and Facebook environments. This make sense because Kantar’s CrossMedia database shows Facebook and YouTube ads significantly outperform other offline media channels in how cost-effectively they build brands. However, Media Reactions shows that consumers are most receptive to ads in newer digital environments such as Snapchat, Twitch and TikTok. Consumers find ads in these contexts more fun, more innovative, and less saturated.

A Digiday article expects TikTok to benefit from “use-it-or-lose-it ad spending” at the end of 2020, and our data from Kantar’s Media Reactions marketers survey suggests they are likely to be big media budget winners in 2021, along with YouTube and Instagram. Consumers don’t just prefer ads on TikTok, we also have evidence that they are building brands more strongly than we see with typical digital campaigns. Our recent “Power of TikTok” report shows TikTok campaigns are twice as impactful in generating awareness and brand favourability than Kantar digital norms. The same report contains useful case studies and creative tips to aid success in this exciting new space. We often see newer platforms enjoying this honeymoon period, but it does seem that the unique entertainment environment of TikTok is one where both advertising and branded content are well received and impactful.

Whether you are making ads, TikToks or Stories, the role of creativity shouldn’t be underestimated because it drives profitable short- and long-term growth. Nor should marketers underestimate the importance of adapting creative well across contexts. Fortunately, creative quality can now be improved significantly via cost-effective, rapid testing which helps to ensure ads work well, no matter where they are placed.

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