Advertising and the creativity effect

Do more creative ad agencies produce more effective advertising? The numbers tell the story

Do more creative ad agencies produce more effective advertising? The numbers tell the story

James Hurman


Creativity has long been lauded by the advertising industry as the secret to success. Without it, advertising struggles to engage, and as Bill Bernbach so pragmatically said: “If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic.”

Yet many marketers remain sceptical of creativity, wearied by those occasions when creativity appears to be more for its own sake than for the sake of effectiveness, and bemused at the advertising industry’s hallmark appetite for creative awards.

Proven correlation between creativity and effectiveness has historically been scarce, but in a recent study of the world’s largest advertising markets, Britain and the US, I found sufficient data to compare the performance of enough agencies to reach an educated conclusion.

I began by contrasting the 20 most creative agencies, as ranked by the most recent Gunn Report, against the 20 not-so-creative but otherwise most successful (according to billings and effectiveness awards). I found that the creative agencies’ average effectiveness record of 11.2 Effie awards compares favourably with the not-so-creative agencies’ 8.2.

Furthermore, comparing the size of those agencies according to their billings shows up the not-so-creative agencies as, on average, 20% larger than the creative ones, meaning they have more chances to be effective, but fail to convert as often.

A telling calculation reveals the creatively-driven agencies are almost 75 percent more effective, in real terms, then the not-so-creative ones.

The observation holds true in our own market, where our most creative brands—Colenso BBDO, Saatchi & Saatchi and DDB—win considerably more effectiveness awards each year than the rest.

In all three markets the data show a tight correlation between creative award performance and effectiveness, suggesting that if you’re not with an agency that achieves creatively, you should be wary of the return you’re getting on your investment.

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Source: Gunn Report 2007, Advertising Age 2006 US Agency Billings, IPA 2005 UK Agency Billings, US Effie Awards 2004–2007, UK IPA Effectiveness Awards 2000–2007

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The 20 most creative UK & US advertising agencies, according to the Gunn Report 2007

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The 20 best performing UK and US agencies not listed in the Gunn Report, based on billings and Effie Performance 2000–2007

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