James Swift

25 August 2020

Strategist’s Digest: Are advertising creatives really more creative? 

Contagious digests the most interesting and relevant research from the world of advertising and beyond, because there’s just too much to read and too little time

Are Advertising Agency Creatives More Creative Than Anyone Else? An Exploratory Test of Competing Predictions. 

By Federico de Gregorio & Kasey Windels. Published in the Journal of Advertising.

Give it to me in one sentence.

Advertising creatives are no better than regular people at creative tasks.

Give me a little more detail.

There are two main theories of expertise. The expert-performance framework says experts will perform better than novices because they have more experience and have spent more time in deliberate practice. While the process-performance paradox claims experts distinguish themselves by their grasp of norms and jargon, but rarely make better decisions or predictions than amateurs.

The researchers in this experiment wanted to find out which applied to advertising creatives. They created three groups: ad agency creatives, ad agency noncreatives (planners, account handlers etc), and regular people. They then gave these groups a divergent thinking task (name as many uses for a brick as you can), a convergent thinking task (find the missing word) and an advertising task (come up with straplines for this product).

The creatives did not perform better than the noncreatives on any test (all of which were judged by experts) and only outperformed the regular people on two specific aspects of the divergent thinking test (elaboration and originality). They weren’t even better at coming up with straplines. 

Why is this interesting?

The researchers write: ‘This may suggest that agency leaders should not automatically assume that creatives are the only or the best source of creative ideas within an agency. Perhaps the advertising industry tends to attract unconventional people in general, regardless of specific department, and thus creative ideas may be found throughout.’

Of course, it’s also important not to get too carried away. The creative tasks set were little more than parlour tricks (the tagline test wasn’t, but it wasn’t a high-performance task either) and there’s a lot more to being a successful creative at an ad agency than what was tested here.

Any weaknesses?

The relatively small sample size (circa 250 participants). Also, the time limit the researchers attached to the tasks might have prevented the professional creatives from distinguishing themselves.

Where can I find the whole report?

Here, but it’s not free.

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