Commentary

Has Advertising Lost Its Creativity?

The election is finally behind us and over $2 billion was spent on political advertising between the two candidates. But was all the spend worth it?

Media buyers descended on local TV and radio stations in towns across dozens of swing states, pouring millions of dollars into small markets in an attempt to strategically sway voters. However, there were few ads, if any, that were seen and recalled as truly creative or impactful. With all the strategic planning of the advertising campaigns, neither side deployed the other crucial element of great advertising: creativity.  

It would be fair to assume that all the money spent would yield some moving ads. But we didn’t get anything as emotional as “This is Morning in America” from President Reagan in 1984, or as provocative as President Johnson’s “Daisy” in 1964.

Both campaigns, along with the rest of the advertising industry, now can use the abundance of incredible data available to advertisers both during and after campaigns. Advertising now can utilize this information with scientific precision. Ratings, set-top-box data, demographic surveys and test groups, for example, influence the deployment of ads being created.

As the industry relies more on data as a key component to ad campaigns, my hope is that creative agencies understand that great advertising comes when art (creative) and science (media planning/buying) work together.

The ad your ad can look like

This is not just my hope; it’s actually an imperative for the advertising industry. The creative and the media sides, now more than ever, need to work more closely together. Advertising campaigns are becoming more sophisticated as technology and its many branches create more distribution channels. It’s no longer enough just to make a TV commercial. An attractive Facebook page must be built, carefully choreographed Tweets need to be tweeted, and the same video that just aired on prime-time TV needs to be uploaded to YouTube to make sure it goes viral.

We saw this masterfully done with Old Spice’s “The Man your Man Could Smell Like” campaign, which combined imaginative TV ads with personalized online videos and Tweets from the ad’s feature [shirtless] character. These ads were extremely creative, but were also part of a well-planned media-buying campaign across multiple channels. It’s a great example of how effective advertising can be when the two disciplines come together.

This synergy existed in the advertising industry at one point. Until about 20 years ago, ad agencies held all of their practice groups under one roof, such as creative, media buying and planning. I recall the iconic Volkswagen ads created by DDB. The whole process, from creative to media buying, was done by DDB. The way companies organize and create ad campaigns is different today, and this can hurt the creativity of an ad.

While specialty agencies serve an important purpose, the amount of data available for advertisers today is mind-blowing -- and turning that into something helpful is an art unto itself. 

This leads to one of the most important things I have learned being on the “scientific” side of the advertising industry. The data-driven work is crucial for advertisers and their media planning and buying agencies. Creative needs the scientific arm of the advertising industry to help them deal with all of the new digital media in advertising. Concurrently, the media planners also need good creative work so their data analyses can yield more powerful and impactful results for clients.

As the advertising industry moves into new territory with more channels, all of which must work in concert, advertisers are starting to look more like scientists. Ads pop up on your phone based on your location, mouse clicks calibrate your interests and possible spending habits, and even your own emails help advertisers gear ads specifically toward the personal “you."

If an advertiser seeks to be successful, they need to blend the two sides of the industry. With a multitude of ads screaming for our attention, only the truly creative will be noticed and remembered. And $2 billion in uncreative and unscientific ads won’t get you anywhere. Advertisers need to remember that advertising is part art and part science. 

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