Why Short-Term Activations May be Killing Your Creative Effectiveness

Peter Field and the IPA (the highly respected “Institute of Practitioners in Advertising”) have just released a report that is rocking the ad world. According to Field’s study there is a clear and undeniable decrease in the effectiveness of creative advertising over the last ten years.

The study uses a large sample of ad creative that has been submitted to advertising award festivals and then investigates further to figure out if those creative pieces were more effective than the average ad on air. Only ten years ago, the same study showed that creatively awarded campaigns were 12 times MORE efficient than non-awarded campaigns. This year’s shocking study shows that there is virtually no difference between highly creative advertising and non-creative advertising.


So what’s changed? How could creative advertising effectiveness have dropped so dramatically?

Field’s study reveals that the culprit is actually a sort of short-termism that has gripped the marketing and advertising world. Brands seem to have pulled back from thinking about building brands long term and have instead focused their creative energies on generating immediate sales overnight. As a result, award festivals are chock-full of quick stunts to sell product and advertising that does nothing to build the brand long term.

The key lesson is that short-term thinking does not build your sales. Initially, the thought seems counter-intuitive. If you focus all your energy on sales over night, shouldn’t sales go up? Interestingly, the answer is no. Because that’s not the way advertising works.

As more and more recent studies have shown, advertising works by building rich memory structures in consumers’ minds. This makes the brand salient, or easy to remember whenever they have the need for your product. The more you see the Colonel in the US, for instance, the more likely it is you’ll think of KFC next time you’re hungry. That’s why we put so much emphasis on Distinctiveness. It’s really one of the most powerful tools at marketers’ disposal. The consistent use of Distinctive Brand Assets is what builds your brand AND sales.


On the other hand, if you focus your energy on just selling your next taco and forget about building the brand at the same time, you fail to create a memory structure in the consumer’s mind. The next time she’s hungry she simply doesn’t think of your brand, and your sales go down. Advertising works when it’s distinctive, which means 1-Unique, 2-Ownable, and most importantly, 3- Consistent. Too much focus on just overnight sales likely means you’re not being terribly consistent.

So what’s the answer? Should you forget about short-term sales and just do beautiful brand advertising? Absolutely not. The top success stories in Yum! have shown that the best way to achieve sales is to build the brand at the same time as you focus on sales. Each tv ad, banner, and pre-roll video should be about generating sales, but they should also be building on existing memory structures and leveraging existing distinctive brand assets. In other words, they should also be about the brand.

Ken MuenchIPA, distinctive