From good to great – Improving the odds

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Creativity is one of the most powerful drivers of advertising effectiveness, offering huge commercial advantages. But it seems to be harder than ever to turn that theory into practice across the marketing mix. At its event “Cracking Creativity,” Thinkbox asked advertising strategist Laurence Green to find out what’s hindering the creative success of agencies and their clients. We had a look at the study and here are our main takeaways.

About the study

Laurence Green, Director of Effectiveness at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), interviewed over thirty of the finest minds in the advertising industry, to understand both sides of the creative contract, talking to clients and agencies. The brief was to fill a gap in the industry’s knowledge with a useful report. He carried out 34 interviews with 21 agency representatives including chief strategy officers, CEOs, chief creative officers and the like. An additional 10 interviews were also conducted with CEOs of big client companies. Among the participants were McDonalds, Havas Creative, Saatchi & Saatchi, ITV, adam&eveDDB and Channel 4. In addition, the insights of three experts were also considered, these were: Sir John Hegarty, Tim Lindsay at D&AD, and Steve Davies from the Advertising Producers Association.

Here are some of the key findings.

Common barriers to creative effectiveness

1. The time crunch

This is the single biggest barrier to creative effectiveness. We are currently living in a fast-paced corporate environment, where campaigns are being developed at an accelerated rate.

However, in reality, it takes time for creative campaigns to succeed, and time to forge strong relationships and foster a shared understanding of what constitutes ‘great’. Thus, creative endeavours cannot be rushed; instead, it is crucial that success comes with time and extended processes.

It was also concluded that too much time is spent on the wrong stuff, and it’s time rather than timings where we see the problem.

“Creativity is the second biggest factor influencing advertising profitability and the biggest that arketers have direct control over.” Paul Dyson, Co-founder at accelero

2. Complexity of the modern world and short-termism

The complexity of our modern world poses another challenge. There have been profound shifts in the way businesses operate and make choices regarding their media strategies. There are simply too many choices to make, too many assets to configure, and too many worlds to navigate. We find ourselves entering an era of “short-termism,” where there is hyper-focus on the urgent, short-term production of media content, with diminished attention to the more important long-term planning horizons, such as brand-building. There is also the issue of high churn rates in the agencies. In addition, clients are beginning to run massive online and offline operations, and this poses a challenge for producers to maintain pace with this evolving landscape.

There is risk-aversion and a climate of fear, especially evoked by social media. Big decisions and risks can backfire enormously, but at least the news cycle is so fast that by holding on, often you can make it through. However, it sometimes seems like the penalty for failure is bigger than the reward for success, which is problematic.

“There is risk-aversion and a climate of fear, especially evoked by social media.”

“The system is creating safer work. We’re norming rather than storming.” Margaret Jobling,  Group CMO, NatWest Group. President of ISBA.

Which is another way of saying that it is much easier to do the unremarkable rather than the remarkable. In this environment, and given all the choices advertisers have to face, be it media or otherwise, we see that the incremental but guaranteed beats the less predictable but more advantageous discontinuities that creative leaps can evoke.

We need to fight against all these issues as they are the problems that are squeezing the magic out of bold ideas. Campaigns lend themselves to creative iteration and higher standards.

When looking at campaigns, we can see a shift in their assessment. Whereas they previously were longitudinal, they are now seen as a specific “point in time” and the campaign sensibility needs to make sense for this specific time stamp.

“Go long, not just wide. Forgive the first pancake. Repeat winning formulas. Don’t move on too soon. We undervalue consistency, we chase the new.” Margaret Jobling,  Group CMO, NatWest Group. President of ISBA.


3. Hybrid working

The report also highlighted some concerns that too much hybrid working with people staying at home and connecting via zoom, can be a threat to sparks of creativity and serendipitous moments – the crucial final 2% that plays a significant role in elevating a good campaign to greatness. This happens because in depth discussions and creative development tend to be sacrificed with hybrid working. While there are exceptions, such as deep work and strategy sessions, many crucial aspects are only addressed after the “end” button is clicked, when those essential human interactions can address necessary issues. Often the great work we see comes from truly robust, high conflict but high trust conversations which are better done in the room.

4. Layers of decision-makers and lack of access to the top

During the interviews, it became clear that the majority advocated for fewer decision makers within the production of a creative idea as the most efficient way for successful creative work. Another obstacle was limited access to senior decisionmakers, particularly for agencies, and the absence of endorsement or trust from other parts of client organisations. The former significantly reduces the agency’s capacity to exert influence and the potential of advertising to address business challenges, moving beyond merely fulfilling brand directives to breathing life into an organisation.

How to face these challenges – the hallmarks of successful creative development

Client and agency should be “ambitious friends.” Great creative starts with a shared mission across the agency and client team and a clear sense of what good looks like. This is often helped by a strong historic relationship.

A good brief is crucial, one that is single-minded, signed off and a great springboard in its own right. Creative time can then be spent engaging with it rather than (re)writing it. The horizon should be long, not (just) short.

Great creative needs a memorable idea that is founded on good insight and thereby “right” for the brand; a simple thought that works emotionally. It also needs to stretch across platforms and ideally across time. It needs to be presented enthusiastically, debated honestly, and bought decisively, ideally by a single decision-maker, first time round.

Once the idea reaches production, it has the best chance of success if the client (and the agency) keeps out of the way insofar as possible, empowering their production running mates to add or subtract the right elements and bring their craft skills to bear.

“Often the great work we see comes from truly robust, high conflict but high trust conversations which are better done in the room.”


To read the full white paper, visit: from-good-to-great-improving-the-odds.

Actionable takeaways to tackle creative barriers.

The report identifies several practical actions that can help foster better creativity:

  • Remember what’s possible, how transformative great advertising creative can be.
  • Allocate resource against outcomes not inputs.
  • Spend time together. Discuss work (not just yours). Is anything holding you back?
  • Aspire to better briefs and better feedback.
  • Go long, not just wide. Don’t just chase the new, repeat winning formulas and don’t move on too soon.
  • Involve your CEO and CFO. Help them understand the commercial importance of the brand.
  • Learn from Christmas, when the role of the brand and what audiences feel, is paramount.


Source: from-good-to-great-improving-the-odds.

TV Key Facts

TV Key Facts

TV Key Facts editorial team, RTL AdAlliance

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