How much is a good idea worth, really?

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How important are ideas in advertising really? What is a great ad concept worth? Should marketing clients care about creativity for their brand? And if so, what are agencies doing to meet the need for it now they’re running so lean?

When you start out in the ad industry it’s taken as read that ideas are important. Indeed, people who enter adland are generally fascinated with ideas and creativity. So they not only accept the received wisdom, but become fully paid up members of the club, going out to preach the word like their survival depended on it – because it does.

That ideas are important is the sea in which we agency people swim.

So are we idea-centrics right? Or do we just need to hold that idea true and continue to assert it because without it the very foundations of the industry will crumble?

The case for creativity

Well, a study presented by ThinkBox provides some compelling evidence. The report was written by Peter Field and the IPA and focuses on the performance of IPA effectiveness award winning campaigns over an 8 year period, measured in terms of the level of market share growth they drive per point of extra share of voice (ESOV).


Each of the dots is an IPA effectiveness award winner. If you strip out the creatively awarded ones (green dots), give them their own average (the green line), and compare them to the average of the non-creatively awarded ones (the red line), campaign efficiency is shown to be boosted by 11 times – in fact it was subsequently updated to 12 times the following year.

This means that non-creatively awarded campaigns are less efficient and offer less certainty of effect. Or to spin it around, highly creative campaigns are a more reliable investment. £ for £ they pay back more money to the advertiser.

Playing safe?

Yet so many brands with big budgets homogenise their creative into a formula, happy to go with the dependable average ROI when there is so much more to go for. It’s the creative equivalent of putting all your money in a current account. Isn’t there an opportunity to try something different?

Well, many of the best brands do operate a 70/20/10 rule on their budgets, giving 70% over to their known formula, 20% to testing the variables on their campaign, and 10% to trying something new. While this is great for creativity, the effects of what these tests could achieve if backed by a bigger budget may not be fully appreciated. According to the study the bigger the budget, and the more channels it’s executed through the greater the “creative effect” on market share was amplified.

So there are hard cash reasons for clients to go after creativity with a stick. But what about agencies? If creativity can boost effectiveness by such a margin, why hasn’t the process of generating great creative ideas been picked apart and reassembled in a way that is specifically designed to produce them for clients?

Yes, we thought it was odd too, so we decided to do something about it.

A better way

We started with the end in mind and worked backwards from there. If the end result is a great creative idea, what’s the most reliable route to it? We think the answer lies in the number of ideas generated and the selection process.

Creativity is a numbers game

I was taught early on in my career that creativity is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. To get the quality, pump out quantity. So we believe that to get the best ideas, the chances are better if you start with more than the three a regular agency presents.

We think, now more than ever, clients should have access to more talent and more ideas than a bricks and mortar agency can offer. While the agency building used to be the definitive portal to creativity, clients can, and probably ought to, access talent in different ways and from different places. That way we believe clients will find fresh category-free thinking for their brands. Ideas that can help them outperform the market.

A better way to select ideas

Usually, first within the agency approval structure, then on the client’s side, the Highest Important Person’s Personal Opinion (HIPPO) comes into play when selecting work. But shouldn’t there be more rigour applied when selecting the best ideas – especially if you’ve got many more on the table to start with? We think so. That’s why we invite effectiveness experts from neuroscience and research early on to help us select and develop ideas along with our clients.

Jeremy Bullmore, “quite possibly the most admired man in advertising” (Campaign magazine’s A List) says “The most important decision an advertiser makes is the decision to advertise: not how, but whether.” True Mr B. But, once that decision is taken there can be no greater decision than how.


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