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Valuing creativity

Evidence suggests that this business asset is vital in driving brands' commercial success

A blank canvas on an easelMany of us take pride in thinking differently. But do you think differently at work? And if you do, maybe it is just a furtive part of your business day? After all, is it really that important?

Let me ask you, as someone responsible for driving business growth in your company, whether you think creativity is a key driver for commercial success?

You would expect me to endorse this statement, as I am someone active in the creative service industry, where our reason for being is to generate wealth for customers through creativity. However, I feel that many of you will be saying 'no way' to the question above. I say this because in over 20 years working in the pharma sector, I have witnessed creativity being killed many times. In this context, therefore, it is strange to note that global CEOs rate creativity as the most essential asset in business.

Creativity came top in a recent survey of 1,500 global CEOs, conducted by IBM. It scored higher than operational effectiveness or global thinking.

Despite the global recession, CEOs have declared that business success requires not reinforcement of best practice, but the opposite: fresh thinking and continuous innovation to reinvent customer relationships and achieve greater organisational dexterity. They forecast that 20 per cent of revenues will have to come from new sources in this brave new world, recognising the need to break with existing assumptions and methods.

Hurdles to jump
So, when now, more than ever, creativity, fresh thinking and innovation are needed to deliver business acceleration, why are agencies finding it increasingly difficult to get great brand creativity valued, approved and delivered?

On the occasions when I have seen creativity killed, it has often been done unintentionally. It has not been due to a lack of belief in the value of new ideas, but more a result of the working environment or immediate business demands. The current culture of evaluating everything does not help. Personal accountability has led to fear of not adopting the norm, of testing and retesting everything and waiting for the evidence, the market research, the third party voice that makes the decision for us all.

Hard data
But we creatives can play the evidence game too. Our failing is that we do not focus on this enough with clients. We have the evidence, the hard data, to help clients argue the case for creativity. This data demonstrates how best to deliver great creativity for business impact, even in a rational sector like the pharma industry. We should be using this information more proactively to support the business case in this evidence-based world.

Emotional vs rational
So what does the data reveal? In advertising, there is now very strong evidence, produced by Les Binet and Peter Field for the Institute for Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), that emotional messages are more durable and have more longevity than rational ones in the minds of customers, even in so-called rational business sectors like pharma. Emotional messages have a more long-term effect and drive better business results. So, why do we continue to drive the rational product message, despite this evidence?

Furthermore, in emotional messaging, the 'fame model' is the most successful. The IPA defines fame as the perception of authority in a category and the fame model as one which goes beyond awareness of the brand, by raising the relative perceived quality of a brand, not necessarily in a rational (product performance) sense, but in an emotional (belief in the brand) sense.  A campaign that targets brand fame outperforms other models on all business metrics, particularly market share growth. Why are we not setting fame as a business objective for our pharma brands?

A final argument for the emotional message comes in a study reported in September, conducted by Peter Field. It shows creatively-awarded campaigns are 11 times more efficient at achieving their objectives and deliver twice as much brand share growth as non-creatively awarded campaigns. Why is this?  Creatively-awarded campaigns are more likely to be emotional; non creatively-awarded campaigns are more likely to be rational. So, this provides evidence that awards have a business rationale too.

Call to action
This data provides a call to action to revisit thinking about the value, content and effectiveness of creative pharma campaigns. Being 'on message' is important, but being 'on emotion' is even more important for business success.

So with the evidence to support the business value of great creativity, what is the best process to deliver it?

My next comment will probably not be well received: great creativity takes time. This may be irritating, but it is true. Creativity is not a logical or sequential process. It involves travelling down lots of avenues and hitting lots of dead ends while exploring new concepts. Exploration needs incubation time to test out an idea, before progressing or changing tack.

Formulating the idea
The failure value, or knowing what does not work, is often huge. It helps form the thinking for a great creative idea; often knowing what does not work provides the path to find the best idea that does. Therefore, when we are asked to supply an idea in 24 hours, we are not impressed. Sometimes the creative process is seen as a disruptive influence in companies. This can only be good; it looks like CEOs are asking for more of this.

However, in other departments deadlines often seem to take precedence over creativity. I appreciate that everyone faces deadlines and I am the first to want to deliver an outcome, but I want to provide only a positive one, not one for the wrong reasons. Tighter and tighter deadlines, including impossibly tight ones, are increasingly becoming the standard and they are set at the expense of creativity.

One recent example was when we were asked to develop a global creative strategy for a brand across all regions of the world in seven days and, as the Request for Proposal (RFP) stated, with obvious demonstration of the evidence and unique insight we had sourced in the process.

This was ridiculous.  We do have superstars in our business, but even they are not god-like in their pace of creation. In addition, often the deadlines are false, perhaps to maintain control over the process and all parties in it? Or maybe this demonstrates a lack of understanding of the commercial value great creatives can have? Either way, this is not a sensible way forward, if our aim is to deliver best success for the brand.

Once, with a similarly ridiculous two-week deadline for supplying a global creative solution, the client prospect then took six weeks before looking at the submission. Those extra weeks could have been used to build an even stronger creative proposition for the brand.

Unfortunately, the procurement process reinforces this focus on time, with hours-based pricing, not value-based pricing, for creativity. More time seems to be spent costing production – what is delivered – rather than the most valuable part of the process for the brand: the creative thinking and generation of the big idea. In fact, we are often asked to deliver the big idea free of charge at the pitch.

Finally, there is evidence for the value of creativity, what types of campaign deliver best commercial impact are known and it has been shown that the creative process is key to delivering a great result. The problem now is that not enough people know this. 

Change
The Health Communications Council (HCC) at the European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA) is working to change this situation and clarify the creative process and how best to value it, for the benefit of all. It offers briefings and training on the creative process and the evidence for the commercial value of creativity. There is recognition that the world has changed and we need to respond to it better.

Pharma must have brand stewards who are all great ideas champions and protectors.  As creative partners, we are here to help them generate big creative ideas, but this is not enough. Creatives must also provide the evidence; a clear business case for the effectiveness of a campaign, to help the big idea survive the approval process and not be weakened or lost to the system. Teams must ensure that they have a business creative on board; a superstar, award-winning creative, who also delivers commercial success. From the evidence, this is the most important factor to back the brand.

The Author
Gloria Gibbons
is president, EMEA, AP and Latina, at Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide and a member of the EACA HCC.

To comment on this article, email pme@pmlive.com

18th November 2010

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