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Why We Must Bring Creatives (Back) into the Effectiveness Bubble


As part our series, ‘The Effectiveness Effect’ in partnership with the IPA, BBH’s chief executive officer Karen Martin and chief creative officer Alex Grieve deliver some hard truths about involving creatives in effectiveness

Why We Must Bring Creatives (Back) into the Effectiveness Bubble

On October 10th 2023, the IPA’s EffWorks Global (a hybrid conference) will provide unparalleled opportunities for brands and agencies to arm themselves with the knowledge needed to navigate marketing effectiveness, and improve business performance. In the weeks leading up to the event, LBB is discussing the most crucial themes in effectiveness today with some of the leading thinkers and leaders in the conversation.

There have never been more resources and tools available to those who want to make sure their marketing is effective. Thanks to the rise in the effectiveness agenda over decades, business performance has been put more and more into the focus for the creative industries. But it could be even better. Right now there is a huge opportunity to bring creatives and creative work back into the effectiveness conversation. That’s an opportunity that BBH’s chief creative officer and chief executive officer are determined to grasp.

There is a misconception that creatives don’t need to concern themselves with effectiveness. But it’s plain nonsense, thinks Alex Grieve. “All the very best creatives are trying to do something that works, because great work that works is the business of advertising,” he says. As CCO at BBH, IPA Effectiveness Agency of the Year 2018-2020, he should know. It’s the fundamentals of what agencies do, as he sees it. “In our game, the job is to do something that creates a shift in the brand perception then, ultimately, sales.”

Nobody in a department like the one he runs should be concerned with creativity for its own sake. “A creative team who start a piece of work just from the point of view of trying to do something creative in the broadest sense, that merges into that area of vanity publishing,” he says. “If you want to do something with a pure creative focus that's not commercial, go and make video art or write poetry in a periodical that never gets read by anyone. The very best creatives are incredibly engaged in effectiveness.” 

At BBH, it seems clear that’s the case. As Karen Martin, CEO and IPA Effectiveness Leadership Group chair says, when the agency found out it was Effectiveness Agency of the Year, the whole team was overjoyed. “Everybody was thrilled with it. It wasn't just the strats in the corner dancing,” she says. “We were so proud of that, because that shows that the great work that we do works. That's kind of all we want.”

But there is no smoke without fire. And while creatives might care about effectiveness more than negative stereotypes suggest, Alex has yet to meet one who’s reading in-depth papers cover to cover. “They're not engaged in some of the, at worst, quite academic papers around effectiveness,” he says.

Which is a shame, because insights from the world of effectiveness are actually just what creatives want to hear. Karen recalls the IPA’s effectiveness talk at Cannes this year: “It was basically confirming everything that would make a creative's dreams come true,” she says, “in that it's all about the 60-40 split of long investment into a brand versus short term. 10 years in the making, it [‘The Long and the Short of It’, Les Binet and Peter Field’s seminal book] has now been proven out. If you're a creative, doing short-term tactical stuff is one thing, but committing to longer-term platforms is what everyone wants to do.

“You can measure the short term, but you can't run a brand on the short term, because you start to see the longer, considerational, big measurement scores fall off a cliff. That's the thing. It's a combination of the two and how to use them.”

Karen’s full of admiration for the base of knowledge on effectiveness that the IPA has built up since its Effectiveness Awards began in 1980. “Let's try not to forget what all this information is for. It's brilliant,” she says. “The IPA is such a global success story because every other country looks at what the IPA does. It's just there are so many papers and so much stuff prepared for which who is the end audience? I don't think that creatives have been, ever. We all should be worried about the creative product, however, it's never been part of the discussion. So much useful stuff in there isn't going to the people who will probably find it the most helpful in what they're doing. An awful lot of work is put into this stuff. It just might not be getting to the people who can actually affect the most change with it.”

One obstacle between effectiveness knowledge and the creatives it needs to reach is fear, suggest the BBH bosses. “I think people are afraid of creatives,” suggests Karen. Alex adds that he’s sensed it going both ways. “Worse, there's this kind of infantilizing thing that goes on, suggesting 'creatives are not really clever enough to understand this stuff, so we aren't going to get them involved.' But then creatives are allowing that to happen.”

Effectiveness papers themselves are intimidating to many creatives, suggests Alex. “Some of the language is perhaps slightly alien. And that's where we need to build the bridge,” he says. “There's a reason why a lot of these strategic papers are framed in a very academic way. It's very reassuring for the client, because it's based on hard, rational, cold logic and data.” But that’s not exciting to creatives.

Attaching work to the papers and studies is something Karen would like to see as a simple step to make them more palatable to creatives. “That's the thing, it's proven that great work works great,” she says. “It's not this belief that bland stuff that passes research tests is the most effective. “We actually see that brilliant creative is commercial creative and it has results.” So showing that work off as part of the effectiveness conversation would be a start. 

Alex advocates for ad agencies to do what they do best to communicate the messages from effectiveness research more effectively. “The process of advertising is to simplify, reduce and to give the key points to people where they can be used. So it's about delivering these messages. All the best things are framed in the simplest possible language. The better and more experience you get, the more you stop using fancy words and use the simplest, most direct words possible. I wish there was a bit more of that going on.”

While within agencies, effectiveness may too often be seen as the preserve of planners, it’s not their responsibility to spoon feed the creatives. Increasing effectiveness-focused thinking requires collaboration. “I worry there's this disconnect between the two disciplines,” says Alex. “The closer we can get those two disciplines together, the better it will be. Part of that is for strategists to help clarify and simplify, but also for creatives to be more interested, lean in to ask for it. At the moment, there's these brilliant camps that are slightly isolated in silos and they need to come together more. And that's the responsibility of both parties.”

Thanks to the strategic, measurement-oriented culture that pervades in many effectiveness discussions within certain agencies, the resulting lack of nuance that can be offputting to some creatives, suggests Alex. “It's a kind of philosophical thing about how we judge work. I totally get it, and I want it as well, but we want absolute reassurance about whether something will be effective or not, whether it will work and shift the needle. And our way of consoling ourselves about that is to create more and more models that give this reassurance that it will all work. Of course we want to measure things. But it positions advertising within this black-and-white world.” 

A bit more appreciation of the grey area would be welcome to creatives, he thinks. “There are so many examples you can go through again and again of things that research terribly, that then did brilliantly, and vice-versa. The whole of our industry is not comfortable with things being slightly grey. There needs to be some flex around it. It's applying a bit more common sense to things as well, rather than this logical, rational world where you put something into a machine and it'll spit out an answer. That's not how creativity works.”

Creatives don’t have a monopoly on common-sense thinking of course. The BBH CEO backs her CCO up: “Brilliant clients will use all the methodology, measurement and research as an input, not as the decision maker. Because if that was the case, we'd all have the exact same work out there. And that is the worry. We as people don't react the same to the same thing twice. We're trying to predict every single human emotion and behaviour (good luck if you're going to do mine!). We feel like we want more control and measurement, because we can. But you can't predict lots of behaviour.”

Detailed studies on how advertising works are a rich resource, but to get creative buy-in for effectiveness, brands and agencies need to make sure they don’t take it all too literally. Instinct needs to inform creative decisions as much as research, suggests Alex. “If you don’t, the work is like a factory production line where things are feeling and looking the same. If they look the same, no one's going to look at them or pay attention. The whole basis of what we're doing is difference. It's to stand out and get people's attention.” As his agency’s famous slogan demands, ‘When the World Zigs, Zag.’

As Karen sees it, this blend is what zagging is all about: “Zagging isn't just, ‘Let's do mad shit over here!' It's very carefully considered. But equally, that's our job - to try and define what's different in the market and how to stand out because there are just too many similarities. I think it's because everybody's using the same research. So you've got to find your own way.” 

That’s why effectiveness and creativity are intrinsically linked for Karen. And that’s why one of her key missions as IPA Effectiveness Leadership Group chair is to see effectiveness and creativity celebrated together. “With both we'll be a better industry for it, and I feel that we're going against each other. I don't really know who wins in that. We're making it difficult for clients, actually.”

Alex is aware that creative leaders like him need to push to involve themselves in the effectiveness agenda. “It's very easy just to rant and rail from the sidelines,” he says. “Things will only change if more creative departments, instead of moaning about it, get involved and start to see how we can make it work better.”

“Nobody wants to do a piece of work that doesn't work and no one sees. Everyone wants to do work that makes the brand famous, shifts loads of products and makes themselves famous as well. There are all the tools there and the people to help us do it. And instead of burying our head in the sand, building that bridge is gonna make it a lot better.”

One way to start building that bridge now could be buying your tickets for IPA EffWorks Global 2023 – a hybrid conference where creatives, strategists, brand marketing and agency leaders alike can get involved in effectiveness. Karen will be one of many expert speakers sharing knowledge on how to make marketing more effective.

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BBH London, Tue, 29 Aug 2023 13:50:22 GMT