In the Fall of 2012, shortly before the most well-known creativity index in Germany was about to be published (Manager Magazine Kreativ Index), two leading advertising agencies in Germany, Jung von Matt and Scholz & Friends, announced that they would not participate in any creative or advertising award competitions in 2013.
This was not sour grapes. Jung von Matt had taken first place in the index six years in a row and Scholz & Friends were ranked fourth.
What's more, creativity matters a lot to these people. If an agency or a creative professional had to choose from all possible value adding aspects of their business, chances are that the one they would rate highest would be their ability to come up with original, novel and creative advertising campaigns. The underlying idea is that outstanding creative campaigns will deliver outstanding business results to the client.
You can see, therefore, why most agencies take creative awards seriously. Winning one makes their creative potential visible and tangible to their clients. And when agencies ask newly won accounts why they were invited to pitch, the usual answer clients give is that the selection was made on the basis of rankings in the usual competitions.
Creative individuals also love the competition with their peers. The national and international creative professional pecking order is determined to a large degree by the results from award competitions. Moreover, agency bosses see award competitions as a key motivational tool. It's like the Olympic games — if they didn't exist, no one would ever have run the 100m dash in under ten seconds.
So what inspired the decision to pull out of creative award competitions? At least two reasons come to mind. First, a growing large number of submissions to competitions consists of so-called 'gold-ideas' — or less flattering — 'zombie creations'. These are campaigns whose explicit objective is to win an award but not to run on prime time TV. The objective is to push up the agency in creative rankings rather than sell a product. If this is true, then the clients in question are basically being ripped off.
But the bigger question is whether creative award success really is a good measure of an agency's creative potential. Our view here is that there are more rigorous metrics for assessing success in advertising.
A metric that we have applied is originally based on the famous Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT). We compared 437 ad campaigns from 90 leading brands in 10 different FMCG categories in Germany. Using an advertising creativity scale developed from communications researchers at Indiana University in 2007 we evaluated and indexed each campaign's creativity levels.
Specifically, we measured five dimensions of advertising creativity: (1) originality (was the ad original, rare, surprising, unique?); (2) flexibility (does the ad link the product to different ideas, concepts, or subjects?); (3) elaboration (does the ad contain intricate or numerous details?); (4) synthesis (does the ad blend normally unrelated objects or ideas?); and (5) artistic value (does the ad excel visually, verbally, or graphically?).
Controlling for the spending of each brand, we used a statistical sales response model to link campaign creativity, ad spending, pricing, competitive ad spending and pricing to the sales performance of the advertised brands over time.
We found that creativity made a big difference. Typically, a 1% increase in advertising spend translates into a 0.2% increase in purchases but for the more creative ads (by our measure) we found that the purchase responsiveness approached 0.3%.
The big lesson from this is that the effectiveness of creativity can be measured quite precisely. Once the business world starts to realize this and researchers find ways to refine the measures and models we can use, we'll find out a lot more about what types of creativity work best in what context. And then we can consign all those plaques and statuettes to the boxroom.
An HBR Insight Center