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Rod Connors is Co-founder of System1 Agency, a disruptive new agency model. Here he argues that the right kind of pre-testing can boost creativity, not crush it. We explored the role of creativity in effectiveness at the Effectiveness Week Genesis Conference on 02 November 2016.

“I love research.” John Hegarty, Hegarty On Advertising.

What? Has the great man completed the u-turn of the century and embraced pre-testing as part of the creative development process?

Well – not exactly.

In fact, not at all.

John’s actual words were “Every so often, I love Research” and refer to a time when another agency’s work tested poorly – prompting Levi Strauss to award their business to BBH. As I discovered working as a client on Lynx in the late 90’s, research is not high on Hegarty’s list of essential tools in the creative development process.

Portrait shot of Rod Connors, Co-founder of System1 Agency and contributor on effective creativity to Effectiveness Week 2016
Rod Connors, Co-founder of System1 Agency

And Hegarty is not alone. You would be hard-pressed to find a Creative Director in any major Agency stating that they “love research”. At best it is a “ratification of a creative strategy”. At worst pre-testing “strangles ideas before they have had time to develop and breathe”.

So why this pre-testing vs creativity tension between Marketing Leaders and Agencies? After all, we all want the same thing. When Marketing Leaders are asked what they are looking for in an agency, “creativity” is top of the list. When Agencies are asked who makes the best client, the ability to “spot big ideas and nurture creativity” is the number one answer.

Reversing the decline in creative effectiveness?

And yet despite this – and the strong evidence supporting a link between creativity and effectiveness, we are seeing a dangerous trend towards declining creative effectiveness in advertising. Peter Field’s excellent recent IPA paper “Selling Creativity Short” tells us that creatively awarded campaigns are now six times as efficient as non- awarded campaigns, down from 12 times in 2011. “Short-termism” and “budget pressures” are identified by Field as being partly to blame?

Infographic of results from IPA's report Selling Creativity Short which shows that 20% less £ is being allocated to creatively awarded campaigns and there has been arise of 45% in short term campaigns - Pre-testing vs creativity

But I wonder if pre-testing might have a role in helping to reverse this trend?

The issue is this:

Traditional pre-testing assumes that people make brand choices based on logical, persuasive marketing arguments. The research focuses largely on USP’s, differentiation and product messaging. Fertile creative territory?

But brand choice is driven largely by emotion and feeling. Put bluntly; the more you feel, the more you buy. If you understand this (as do brands like John Lewis, Nike, Money Supermarket, Lynx, Virgin Atlantic or Dove) and you use pre-testing to measure this as part of the creative development process, then it will come into its own. A liberating http://www.mentalhealthupdate.com/celexa.html tool for Marketing Leaders and Creative Directors alike.

Pre-testing for Emotion

For Marketing Leaders, judging the emotional appeal of a piece of creative work is subjective and tricky. It demands skill and experience. It’s much more challenging than simply searching for a product message or USP. But by using pre-testing to explore the way an idea makes people feel they can quickly predict the creative potential of that idea at the earliest stage of the creative process. I’ve seen this in action with System1’s Ad Testing, which even guarantees a link between an idea’s ‘Star Rating’ and ROI.

Perfect ammunition for convincing stakeholders (CFO’s) – and addressing Field’s issues around “short termism” and media budgets.

For Creative Directors, pre-testing of the creative work is just as powerful. It not only gives clients confidence in the idea (“don’t just take my word for it”), it can also guide creative development too.

An example is Guinness Wheelchair, part of the Guinness Made Of More campaign.
By tracking people’s emotions as they watched the Wheelchair animatic, BrainJuicer’s System1 pre-testing supported the BBDO creative team to make the idea more effective. Creating an execution that allowed the actions to speak for themselves – less voice over, more impact around the plot-twist as all but one of the guys walk away from their wheelchairs at the end – was a direct result of pre-testing for emotion. It catapulted the Ad into the coveted 5-Star band, that’s the top 4% of all Ads globally.

Pre-testing gave the Guinness Marketing Leadership Team the evidence they needed. They were able to predict 5-Star performance and guaranteed ROI for Wheelchair. And pre-testing gave the Creative Team at BBDO the insights in the creative development process to build Guinness Wheelchair into an even more powerful idea.

“Exploring the emotional appeal of ideas at an early stage of the creative development process can add considerable creative value”

This is just one instance of many, that demonstrate how exploring the emotional appeal of ideas at an early stage can add considerable creative value. And that intensified creativity will equal greater effectiveness.

The perfect moment to declare a love for research.


The author, Rod Connors, is a co-founder of System1 Agency. System1 is part of the portfolio of 5 Star Marketing resources that include BrainJuicer System1 Research. Rod brings a passionate view of what makes advertising effective. He spent his career helping to build brands, in Marketing Director roles in Unilever (The Lynx Effect), adidas & Nike (Run London). Most recently he set up and runs The BSG (Global Marketing Consultancy). Contact him at [email protected]

Browse more learnings and key content from Effectiveness Week 2016 here.

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“Just what the industry needs, great collaboration between clients and agencies on the topics that drive business growth.”

Bridget Angear, Joint Chief Strategy Officer at AMV BBDO

“It’s great to see the IPA in the UK bring the whole industry and particularly the trade bodies together to focus on effectiveness. This new Marketing Effectiveness initiative will enable people across the industry to work together to build on best practice.”

David Wheldon, Chief Marketing Officer, RBS

“Effectiveness is a team sport, so it was great to see the industry in the widest sense, come together. In an increasingly diverse and fragmented world, only by using all parts of the brain will we solve effectiveness challenges and design our campaigns to deliver short and long term value. That’s why what happens next is important – if the IPA can help facilitate progress on this with a long-term initiative around Marketing Effectiveness, we’ll definitely crack it.”

Bart Michels, Global CEO Kantar Added Value and Country Leader Kantar UK

“The time spent at #EffWeek was extraordinarily effective. It was great to hear the diverse views from all areas of the industry. All tied together with the common themes of accountability and effectiveness.”

Andrew Canter, Global CEO, BCMA

“It has been a privilege to be part of the inaugural Effectiveness Week. The agenda is one which we at O2 UK feel passionately about. To see and hear perspectives across the industry demonstrates how the breadth of marketing effectiveness is increasingly being valued within businesses. Data, insight, social, customer experience, test and learn, ROI, these are all fundamentals and were covered expansively at the event”.

Sandra Fazackerley, Marketing & Consumer, Telefónica UK Limited

“The full week of effectiveness events brought into clear focus the need for marketers to use data and insight to achieve the key business objectives of growth and profits. Marketers today are in a better position to quantify their knowledge of customers and measure the ability of investments in marketing to increase brand and shareholder value.”

Chris Combemale, Group CEO, DMA