James Swift

27 July 2020

Strategist’s Digest: How and when creativity works in advertising 

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

(Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash)

In this edition of Strategist’s Digest, we break down a meta-analysis of advertising studies investigating how and when creativity is most effective in advertising.

A Meta-Analysis of When and How Advertising Creativity Works 

By Sara Rosengren, Martin Eisend and Scott Koslow. Published in the Journal of Marketing.

Give it to me in one sentence.

Advertising creativity is better at changing attitudes than grabbing attention or being memorable.

Give me a little more detail.

Researchers analysed 93 data sets from 67 academic papers to create an empirical framework that explains how and when advertising creativity works.

The good news is that the research shows creativity has a robust impact on how people respond to an ad at the time of exposure, and on how people feel about both the ad and the brand (and how much they remember) down the line.

If at this point you’re wondering what exactly ‘creativity’ means, so did the researchers. And they found that creativity is best (ie, has the most impact) measured as a combination of originality and appropriateness, not just originality.

Contrary to what you might expect, the researchers also found that advertising creativity provokes a stronger response when used to promote high-involvement products. And while creativity does grab people’s attention (and is more memorable), it works even harder on changing people’s attitudes towards a brand or ad.

Perhaps related to this, creative advertising was found to work better in media where people paid more attention. The researchers couldn’t test this theory directly, but they think it means creativity is less effective in digital and mobile media, where people tend to be more distracted.

Finally, the researchers also observed that creativity is more effective when applied to unfamiliar brands, but only marginally.

In terms of how advertising works, that’s a little harder to digest. All three existing theoretical models (affect transfer, processing, and signalling) have their place, but ad originality ‘primarily stimulates affect transfer’ and appropriateness ‘is more important for signalling’.

One final nugget: customers are apparently better judges of advertising creativity (in terms of predicting outcome responses) than either experts or awards shows.

Why is this interesting?

Before this study, marketing literature lacked ‘a systematic empirical account of when and how advertising creativity works’, say the researchers.

But the meta-analysis offers practical tips for how and when marketers should invest in creativity, too. As the authors note: ‘Many marketers make suboptimal decisions regarding investments in advertising creativity. We suggest that a tendency to focus on originality might be the root of this problem.’

Any weaknesses?

The study was, by virtue of its design, limited to existing theories on advertising creativity. It also revealed a significant lack of work investigating how advertising creativity impacts sales, but that’s not a weakness, per se.

Where can I find the whole report?

Here, and it’s free.

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