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Beyond the lightbulb moment: How marketers can improve creative effectiveness

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June 1, 2023 | 6 min read

By Yvonne O’Brien, CMO of Zappi

By Yvonne O’Brien, CMO of Zappi

The bathtub has long featured as a source of inspiration. It allegedly provided the perfect environment for Archimedes to hit on the law of hydrostatics, while in the early ‘80s, Geoff Hayes – TBWA’s art director – claimed he was in the bath when he conceived the idea for the distinctive Absolut vodka ads. These iconic bottle ads formed the longest-running campaign in advertising history.

But while the idea of the lone creative struck by a flash of genius is a compelling one, the reality is less romantic. Ideas must be tested, challenged and interrogated before they can be successful. This is not an optional part of the process. Today, it is integral to success.

In our volatile world, consumer values and behaviors can change rapidly and radically. Just because an ad landed well one month doesn’t mean it will be successful the next. Social issues, digital access to a global market, and the zeitgeist change at speed, which influences consumers’ needs and desires, and greatly determines how they react and respond to an ad.

This consumer sentiment shift means that creativity is collaborative – built on understanding how new ideas resonate with consumers. What has the breakthrough potential to drive substantial impact? And could your bathtub idea that personifies your new customer acquisition strategy actually isolate a key audience for your brand?

Bud Light’s recent ad backlash is the perfect example of the complexity of today’s consumers. But it isn’t just the ability to read the room and identify what could go wrong. It’s about piecing together what could be optimized, so marketers can take their idea and shape it into an impactful moment.

The good news is that, like a bathtub, every marketer has the tools at their disposal to make this concept a reality.

Listen to consumers from the get-go

If a brand invests millions in production and media buying, the first time consumers see the ad shouldn't be on TV. Once you’ve reached that stage, it’ll be disruptive and costly to backpedal and change course. After all, consumers are going to see your ad eventually anyway – so better to get customer feedback early, while there's still time to change and improve things, than finding out the hard way in the open market.

While marketers are inundated with post-launch performative data on social media, sales and CRM, traditional market research is too slow and costly to empower the creative process. More often than not, it’s closer to a blocker of creative effectiveness. We get stuck in a wasteful cycle of go/no-go where an idea either works or it doesn’t.

But the fact is that true consumer feedback earlier in the creative process flips this dynamic, creating an iterative loop that uses consumer feedback to stimulate the creative effectiveness– not stunt it.

For example, response data can reveal the second-by-second emotional response evoked by ad creative. This insight enables marketers to identify the most effective parts of the ad and dial them up. Equally, this data can show which aspects don’t deliver, and these can be cut or amended. This is optimization at its most powerful. Such knowledge enables marketers to fine-tune creative to elicit the intended consumer response. It also ensures that opportunities to enhance and elevate the creative early on aren’t missed.

Alacrity is the only way to stay consumer-centric, and to innovate at the speed demanded by today’s consumers. Businesses who fail to adapt lose ground, and fast. From storyboard to post-production, involving consumers in every step of the creative process increases the chances that an ad truly resonates, therefore increasing the chances of winning consumers’ hearts – and wallets.

Go live with confidence – and make your budget work

By blending data with human creativity, brands can understand exactly what their target audience thinks and how they are responding to an idea as it develops. Being able to validate the earliest and most promising concepts saves time, money and energy. It also facilitates difficult decisions: ideas lacking substance can be discarded, while the best ideas can be supported. It’s ruthless but necessary in today’s ROI-centric marketing departments.

Take PepsiCo – this powerhouse brand is an obsessive tester of new ideas. Behind the pure creative genius It's a Cheetos Thing Super Bowl commercial or Walkers Crisps Christmas ad is a relentless process of iteration, optimization and validation to ensure it hits the spot before it is unleashed. Top ads might be spawned from the spark of a brilliant individual idea – but that is only part of the story. Keeping abreast of what makes the audience tick and listening to their feedback is critical to success.

And surely any marketer would rather know how their campaign is going to land before they launch – and before committing a huge chunk of their budget? With the average tenure of Fortune 500 CMOs falling from 4.5 years to 4.2 years in 2022, the pressure is real. But this should inspire shrewder ways of working – prioritizing the strongest concepts and making budgets work harder. Far from deterring marketers from producing brilliant, bold creative, it should galvanize.

Strike a potent balance between imagination and data

The opportunity for marketers lies in embracing both human creativity and the power of data, blending the two as soon as a campaign takes root. It is no longer about go/no-go; it’s about understanding what’s working – and what’s not.

Marketing in the digital era has been democratized, and the companies that recognize and harness this truth will thrive. As budgets are tightened along with greater demands for ROI, being able to go to market with confidence is a game changer.

Of course, it is tempting for creators to run naked through the street after a lightbulb moment, as Archimedes (and possibly Geoff Hayes) reportedly did. But marketers should take time to gather the pre-launch data – and act on it – before stripping off.

It never pays to be hasty.

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