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Redefining the Impact of Creativity

June 26, 2013
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Posted by Susan Weissman

This month’s issue of Harvard Business Review has a great article entitled, “Creativity in Advertising: When It Works and When It Doesn’t.” The article highlights a research study in which researchers evaluate the impact of advertising creativity on purchase decisions. Bottom line, “a euro invested in a highly creative ad campaign had, on average, nearly double the sales impact of a euro spent on a noncreative campaign.”

Creativity is then defined as having various measurable dimensions: originality, flexibility, elaboration, synthesis and artistic value. And get this, agencies typically emphasize aspects of creativity that are not the most effective ones driving sales. For example, elaboration had by far the most powerful impact followed by artistic value. Elaboration is about numerous details, extending basic ideas and making them more intricate and detailed. Artistic value is defined as visually or verbally distinctive ideas coming to life. Agencies tend to use originality and artistic value more than elaboration. Originality is defined as “out of the ordinary” and departing from stereotypical thinking. The research says “originality boosts sales only in the presence of additional creative dimensions and the highest rated pairing is originality and elaboration.”

Another interesting finding — when products are functional and oriented toward clear consumer goals (cleaning garments with detergents, protecting skin with body lotion), unorthodox approaches are less preferred. In contrast, when products are easily understood, similar and tied to personal preferences (quenching thirst with a soda, for instance, or enjoying a cup of coffee) an out-of-the-ordinary approach can be more effective in stimulating sales.

I think the study both proves that, in many cases, companies are under-investing in creativity. At the same time, they are narrowing what we mean by creativity and demonstrating what has the most direct impact on sales. This new research can ground the process of creating advertising ideas and assessing their value. Exciting stuff.

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