In their most recent report on advertising creativity and effectiveness, the IPA and author Peter Field reach the startling conclusion that both creativity and effectiveness are under threat. And who are the culprits? They believe that short-term thinking and especially a focus on driving rapid sales effects, combined with the post-global financial crisis recession, are killing the creativity of advertising.
Their findings are clear and shocking. The impact of creativity on efficiency has halved over the past few years, in a business environment where short-term thinking and a desire for instant results are the norm. The consequence of the focus on instant results is that an increasing majority of advertising is less creative and with less long-term impact. Everything is focused on sales to the detriment of long-term brand building.
Short-term thinking seems to have become the curse of our age, but its effects are pernicious and the slow creep to shorter and shorter time horizons and measurement are often difficult to see in the midst of our lives. They are reaching far beyond advertising into a more general and pervasive atmosphere where everyone wants immediate results and there is no patience for the value of longer-term thinking.
On the flip side, Peter Field and the IPA found a strong decline in brand fame effects (building long term emotional associations between brands and people). The combined impact of the focus on short-term and lack of brand building is that advertising is becoming less and less effective. Combined with reduced investment in advertising and very few long-term campaigns and the efficiency of advertising has halved, and if the trend continues in terms of budgets and creativity eventually many campaigns will no impact on long-term brand growth and in some cases may lead to negative growth.
Creativity itself needs time and nurturing to maximize the value of its return. Creativity in the brain is all about building connections between unconnected ideas, which first of all needs a rich resource of ideas combined with the time for our brains to reflect on and soak up those resources to find new patterns and ideas. For many people it can be difficult to find that time in today’s fast-moving business environment.
We need to find that time if we want to move beyond a world of ever smaller innovation increments and avoid chasing our own tails in ever-decreasing circles. And that means taking time to avoid digital distractions and giving our brains quality time to think and explore ideas.
Advertisers and marketers can often become too easily distracted. One of the conclusions of the IPA report is that even when advertisers develop a strong creative idea they often don’t make the most of it. Great ideas need to be exploited for as long as possible, maximizing the impact of the idea and using it to build brand fame.
They also conclude that creativity should never be evaluated over shorter time frames (less than six months) as to do so understates and undervalues creativity and often discourages longer-term exploitation of creative value.
Overall, the consequence of short-term thinking in advertising and more generally in business is to undermine long-term growth. By the very act of focusing on the immediate (and measurable) effects of an advert (or any commercial activity) we lose sight of its greater value and potentially much greater long-term impact.
Of course the same challenges face market research, where the drive for ever quicker, cheaper and faster solutions is one we all face. Speed of execution is always a good thing, but that speed must be supported by great thinking, validated frameworks and a mindset that integrates the bigger picture into even the smallest and fastest piece of research.
Milan Kundera once wrote, “The degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory. The degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting”. If we want great experiences and want our customers to have great experiences with our brand, let’s make time to slow down once in a while, enjoy the moment and above all be creative.
What brands decide to do with their advertising is ultimately up to them, but the evidence is clear and unambiguous. Short-term thinking can never bring long-term success. If you want to build a successful business, you have to step away from the clutter and digital distractions and take a deeper and long-term perspective. It’s deeply ironic but true that the more we focus on instant gratification and immediately measurable impacts, the less likely we are to be driving long-term success.
Don’t let this happen to your own creative minds. As Karl Kraus wrote, “What good is speed if the brain has oozed out on the way?”
Selling Creativity Short: Creativity and effectiveness under threat by Peter Field (IPA)
The Organised Mind: Thinking straight in the age of information overload by Daniel Levitin
The World Beyond Your Head: On becoming an individual in an age of distraction by Matthew Crawford
[This is a modified version of an article originally written for Asia Research Magazine.]