Most measures of creativity are based on the work of psychologist Joy Paul Guilford (1897-1987), who defined creativity as the ability to think differently along a number of clearly defined dimensions. Building on Guilford's work, psychologist Ellis Paul Torrance (1915-2003), probably the international leader in creativity research, developed the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), which are used in the business world and in education to assess individuals' capacities for creativity.
In the early 2000s, Torrance's metrics were adapted to an advertising context by a group around communications researcher Robert Smith from Indiana University. Focusing only on the components that are directly related to how consumers consume and process advertisements, Smith's group defined advertising creativity as the degree of divergence from a norm along five dimensions: originality, flexibility, elaboration, synthesis, and artistic value.
As we describe in our HBR article, we used Smith's scale to assess the creativity of 437 TV advertising campaigns in Germany. We recruited a panel of representative consumers and asked them to give a response on a scale of one to seven to a series of questions. From these responses we were able to assess the various ads and we found that there was significant divergence across ads in terms of the type of creativity that were most salient. Here's how we defined and assessed the five dimensions:
An original ad comprises elements that are rare, surprising, or move away from the obvious and commonplace. The focal element here is uniqueness of the ideas or features contained in the ad. To assess originality we asked three questions:
1) Is the ad "out of the ordinary"?
2) Does it depart from stereotypical thinking?
3) Is it unique?
The highest originality score was given to Coca Cola's "Happiness Factory." The panelists unanimously gave it the maximum score of 7.0. This ad also scored 6.3 for artistic value.
Flexibility is seen in an ad's ability to link a product to a range of different uses or ideas. We asked panelists the following questions to assess it:
• Does the ad contain ideas that move from one subject to another?
• Does it contain different ideas?
• Does it shift from one idea to another?
The highest creativity score was given to Jacob Krönung's "Time for Chatting" ad that respondents rated at 5.0. This was by some margin the ad's highest-scoring creativity dimension.
English translation: We think its great that you men are practical in nature. That you are ready to tackle any challenge and never give up. Because Jacobs Krönung has given us time: time to talk, time to enjoy the new coffee specialties from Jacobs Krönung for Tassimo.
Many ads are creative because they contain unexpected details or extend basic ideas so they become more intricate and complicated. We again asked respondents three questions:
• Does the ad contain numerous details?
• Does it extend basic ideas and make them more intricate?
• Does it contain more details than expected?
The highest score in this dimension (4.0) was given to the Ehrmann Yogurt "Strawberry Tongue" ad, although this was not the ad's highest creativity factor (it scored 5.0 for artistic value).
An ad that is creative along this dimension blends normally unrelated objects or ideas. To assess it we asked the following:
• Does the ad connect objects that are usually unrelated?
• Does it contain unusual connections?
• Does it bring unusual items together?
The highest synthesis score (6.3) was awarded to Wrigley's Juice Fruit Squish "Juicy Fruit Ranch" ad. But this was not the ad's highest score (like the Coke ad, it took 7.0 for originality).
English translation: Background voice: "These are Martin and Schnuffler (male character pointing towards two rabbits). These are their friends (pointing towards more rabbits). This is the production. This is Betsy." Betsy: "Hello, I am Betsy." Voiceover: "Crispy on the outside. Fruity on the inside. Juicy Fruit Squish."
Ads with a high level of artistic creativity contain aesthetically appealing verbal, visual or sound elements. Their production quality is high, their dialog is clever, their color palettes is original, or their choice of music is somehow memorable. To assess artistic value we ask again three questions:
• Is the ad visually or verbally distinctive?
• Does it make ideas come to life graphically or verbally?
• Is it artistic in its production?
The Danone Fantasia Flavor Trip ad gave us the highest score for artistic value (6.67). This ad also scored highly for originality (6.67 as well) and elaboration (6.33).
English translation: New from Danone: Fantasia. Wonderful creamy yogurt. Go on a taste voyage. Let yourself be seduced by Fantasia. For a fantastic €0,29.
As we explain more fully in our article, these was considerable variation in overall creativity across the 437 campaigns we assessed. On the 1-7 scale the average overall creativity score was 2.98, the lowest 1.00, and the highest 6.20. We also found the biggest sales impact from creativity came when two dimensions were emphasized in an ad and there was clear pecking order in terms of which combinations were best.
Combining elaboration with originality had almost double the average impact of a creative pairing on sales, closely followed by the combination of Artistic Value and Originality (1.89, accounting for 11% of all combos). The weakest combination was flexibility and elaboration, which had less than half the average pairing's impact on sales. Yet we found that in terms of usage there was little difference between them: advertisers did not seem to favor any one combination over the other.
Perhaps the most valuable contribution of our study is that it shows how ad professionals and their clients might better channel the energies of their creative people. By applying research methodologies like ours they can have a better sense of what kind of creativity matters the most for their products and place their creativity investments accordingly.