Close-Up: Is creativity really key to success?

The IPA/Thinkbox research linking creativity and effectiveness has its doubters.

Britain's creatives have a warm glow about them this week - and it's not the one they get from taking time out on beach towels at Cannes.

The extra sunshine comes courtesy of the IPA and Thinkbox, commercial TV's marketing body, whose joint research claims to have established a direct link between creativity and effectiveness.

Having compared a campaign's Gunn Report ratings with its business performance as recorded by the IPA's Effectiveness Awards, the researchers claim that the most creatively awarded advertising is 11 times more efficient at delivering commercial success.

The findings are based on the analysis of 175 campaigns, including those for Cadbury, Volkswagen and Virgin Atlantic, over an eight-year period.

"This is the first real attempt to gauge the truth about what many of us have always felt deep-down," Neil Simpson, the Publicis chief executive who chairs the IPA's value of advertising group, declares.

The research has certainly been warmly received by creative directors. "This has to be a good thing both for creatives and clients who like to be reassured by research," Paul Silburn, the Saatchi & Saatchi creative partner, says.

Leon Jaume, the WCRS executive creative director, agrees. "It's reassuring to be told that what we do actually works," he says. But, he asks: "Just how robust is the methodology?"

Indeed, there are those who doubt such research. David Bain, the planning partner at Beattie McGuinness Bungay, claims the IPA Effectiveness Awards databank is skewed towards TV and FMCG case studies and represents "a flawed definition of what constitutes effectiveness".

Moreover, he suggests, the Effectiveness Awards have yet to catch up with advances in marketing, while papers submitted for consideration do not always tell the full story because of client confidentiality and approval issues.

Ben Kay, the head of planning at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, also has reservations. "Advertising that's both creative and effective is something agencies and clients have believed in for some time," he says.

"But while creativity is an important element in effective advertising, it's not the only one. Clients are just as concerned about getting genuine insight into their brands."

Peter Field, the marketing consultant who authored the IPA/Thinkbox report, agrees there might be room for doubt had it not been for the huge disparity in success between award-winning and non-awarded campaigns. "What we've found is quite astonishing," he reasserts.

Field does not suggest the results prove that creativity is an essential pre-requisite for effective advertising - creatively mediocre campaigns can succeed by dint of a sizeable budget and sheer ubiquity. But he does question just how much more successful such campaigns might be if their size was matched by their creativity.

What's more, there is a growing belief that the internet is helping cement the link between creative advertising and financial returns. "Creativity is becoming even more important because it can also drive the increased viral distribution of ads," Alex Hungate, the HSBC global marketing chief, says.

But Kay warns: "We're deluding ourselves if we think creativity is the key to effectiveness. Maybe we need a study showing that advertising is at far greater risk if clients don't embrace creativity."

CONSULTANT - Peter Field, marketing consultant

"People claim creativity is subjective. Actually, it isn't. The most successful advertising is the kind that stirs emotions and that's just as true for consumers as it is for awards judges.

"Those judges have an instinctive feel about the kind of advertising that consumers get emotional about and that they will want to tell others about. They know what works.

"You can always buy your way to success with advertising that doesn't have much of a creative element. But why would you want to do less with more? Creativity's great strength is that it can produce something that's memorable and durable."

CREATIVE - Leon Jaume, executive creative director, WCRS

"The test of a creative ad is whether or not it entertains. And entertaining ads will always be effective because they hold people's attention and get talked about.

"In the old days, the better the product, the less need there was for great advertising. That's not true now. If a manufacturer produced a car that ran on water instead of petrol, the ads would need to be as direct as possible. But there are very few propositions as memorable as that. Advertising has to engage brands with consumers in ways that make them compelling.

"Get it right and it can deliver huge returns on investment."

AGENCY HEAD - Neil Simpson, chief executive, Publicis London

"I think this research, which covers the past eight years, is about as robust as it could be. It means that we can have conversations with clients knowing that what we say can be backed by objective analysis based on statistics.

"The most interesting thing to come out of this is the notion that you can buy awareness but you can't buy fame. These days you need something that captures the public imagination and becomes contagious. Only great creativity can give you that.

"Of course, there will always be a place for hard-working advertising, particularly in the retail sector. But that's more about channel planning."

CLIENT - Matt McDowell, marketing director for Northern Europe, Toshiba

"I'm not sceptical about this research because it endorses a view that I have to evangelise within my own company. Creative advertising will always bring its rewards as long as it stays true to the brand and is consistent with the product.

"What's more, the rise of social media and YouTube has made it much easier to track creative advertising and to find out how it translates into sales.

"However, it would be dangerous to apply this theory in a blanket-like fashion across all forms of communication. You wouldn't call most BOGOF supermarket ads highly creative, but you can't say they're not effective."