Creativity: Might Advertising’s Special Sauce Be Turning a Wee Bit Sour?

Although the topics may vary from blog post to blog post here, one central theme usually always emerges: Creativity. Even before the nasty onslaught of the COVID-19 virus outbreak, creativity was quite important and pertinent in our industry. Now, it’s more important than ever.

In reading various articles on the subject of creativity, I found it interesting that the Brits are complaining about its overall effectiveness. One such cautionary study comes from an account manager with M&C Saatchi. Among others, he cited the legendary John Hegarty who called creativity “advertising’s special sauce” partly due to the significant effect it can have on achieving or even surpassing objectives and increasing ROI.Sir John Hegarty Cannes 2016

Advertising, to increase effectiveness, has to appeal to consumers by conveying emotions and helps to build memory structures, allowing them to choose a brand easily and instinctively. Creativity is the best way to convey emotion.

IPA (Institute for Practitioners of Advertising) studies have proven that creativity can increase ROI by 10x. Furthermore, communications that are built upon a foundation of emotion and that eventually become famous can greatly enhance the effectiveness of a campaign. Even with a fairly modest budget but a strong creative idea, a company can enter the public consciousness in a truly unique way.

Taking the idea and backing it with an effective use of budget can create a huge level of earned media, and by becoming news worthy, can generate a great return on investment.

However, creativity does not operate in a vacuum. Numerous other aspects of a campaign contribute to its effectiveness like media spend, and changes in price of products, for example.

That’s why measuring effectiveness with various KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and economic models is so important. Furthermore, as the “Saatchi Study” indicates, it is important to remember that while creativity can act as a multiplier for ROI and other measures, creativity should never be used as a substitute for solid media investment. The best campaigns have a good balance of both.

Clearly, a creative campaign that appeals to the emotional side of peoples brains, is memorable and sparks conversation, eventually entering into public culture can have a great impact on business results. However, creativity is just one very important part of advertising and not the sole means to an end.

But even creativity, as seen in some circles, is meeting with raised eyebrows as its effectiveness is being called into question. Might it be turning a bit sour?

Advertising has lost its humanity and its ability to entertain; it has turned sour.

This is the challenging starting point of Lemon., a new British publication from the IPA published at the cross-industry Eff Week Conference last year.

According to the 122-page publication, the reasons underlying the decline in creative effectiveness relate to the way the brain attends to the world in the digital era. A shift has occurred in business and society that should merit attention; a change in thinking style that has left its mark not just on advertising, but also on popular culture. The same instincts that lie behind short-termism and narrow focus are resulting in work that is flat, abstract, dislocated and devitalized – advertising that doesn’t move people.

Lemon draws on the latest neuroscience research to move the old ideas of the ‘left’ and ‘right’ brain out of the realm of pop psychology myths and into their rightful place as major drivers of culture, advertising included.

The new research in Lemon puts the focus firmly back on the work itself. It identifies the elements in advertising which appeal most to the holistic right brain – like metaphor, music and a sense of place – and those which attract the more focused left, like onscreen text, abstract body parts and rapid rhythmic edits.

Analyzing 30 years of TV ads, Lemon traces the decline of right-brained elements – and then draws on effectiveness research into modern ads to show that exactly these declining elements are the most effective for brand growth.

Says Orlando Wood, Lemon. author and Chief Innovation Officer at System 1, “Advertising needs to entertain for commercial gain. When it doesn’t, the whole advertising ecosystem runs to seed (runs into the ground); when it does, it unlocks growth and builds reputations. This publication describes how the advertising brain turned sour – how advertising has lost its humanity – and suggests how we might make things right again.

“We now know from new research that the actual divide between the right and left brain is very real; while they don’t do different things, they do and understand things differently. Connecting with audiences requires us to appeal to their right brain. This can only be achieved by freeing our own right brain. In creative development, we must resist our instincts to analyze and devitalize (not move people). The future of advertising depends upon it.”

Says Janet Hull OBE, Director of Marketing Strategy, IPA: “Lemon challenges the industry to recognize the creative direction it has taken in the digital era and is designed to open a healthy and productive industry debate. At our best, we have an extraordinary ability to innovate, imagine and create advertising works of art that elevate, expand and transform brand and human experience.”

Admittedly, the “Saatchi Study” and Lemon’s publication of last Fall were done much before the global onslaught of COVID-19. The entire world has changed as a result. Even advertising has been altered. If as an industry we ever get back to the “creativity” before all this happened, it will be some time.

In the interim, we’ll strive to get back to a “normal” with which we can all live and, hopefully, prosper. However, “normal” as we once knew it will never return or be the same. Nor should it! A better understanding of what creativity is now and how consumers respond to it is changing.

It’s an integral element of advertising that one never wants to insult one’s audience. Don’t muck it up with trivia nor intellectualize it by “talking over their heads.” Advertising must deliver value as perceived by the target audience. It must make sense. It must reflect, appropriately, how consumers view their world.

Don’t be creative for creative’s sake. In other words, creativity, as advertising’s special sauce, must be much more flavorful and much less sour or diners (consumers) won’t return.


Note: According to Amazon, Lemon. is out of print and no known date is set for its return.

Jamie Roston is an Account Manager at M&C Saatchi.



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