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Making creative count

Sometimes it can feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

You know the Board want comms to deliver tangible commercial impact. They are wary of creativity and feel more comfortable with analytic, data-driven approaches.

Yet as a marketer you instinctively know that appealing to business decision makers on a human, emotional level is effective. It just isn’t that easy to prove it.    

Quashed Creative

Martin Sorrel famously said that today’s marketers need to be both Mad Men and Maths Men. But a recent online search of Harvard Business Review reveals that 100 times more papers have been posted about ‘analysis and marketing’ (89,500) than ‘creativity and marketing’ (850).

This indicates that creativity is being quashed by more scientific methods perceived as less risky. Yet paradoxically, that is a risk in itself.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Analysis of previous Cannes Lions winners – arguably the most creative campaigns of their time – reveals that on average their companies achieve 41% stock value growth in their year of winning.

Clearly, creativity can have positive commercial impact. We just need to find ways to quantify that.

Quantitative Creative

A paper published in Harvard Business Review Creativity in Advertising: When It Works and When It Doesn’t identifies five core elements of advertising creativity:

  • Originality – rare and unusual ideas
  • Flexibility – moves from one idea to another
  • Elaboration – extend basic ideas
  • Synthesis – combining normally unrelated objects
  • Artistic value –  visually or verbally distinctive


The paper’s authors researched which elements, and which combinations of elements, are most used. And more importantly, which combinations are most effective.

Usage rates were relatively stable across the campaigns that were audited. Yet the relative effectiveness of different combinations varied hugely.

These findings mark a watershed moment in marketing. More than 100 years on from Wannamaker’s infamous ‘half the money I spend on advertising is wasted’ quote, we can finally predict creative approaches that will work – and those that won’t.

It’s time for marketers to challenge the misconception that creativity is synonymous with risk. The evidence shows that creativity brings commercial benefits. And research proves that a more scientific approach to creativity can be powerfully effective.

Here’s to a new era of disciplined dreamers.

Quantitative Creative was explored in detail at the B2B Marketing Summit in the Creativity. The unfair business advantage session. You can download the full presentation here.