Lindsey Clay: It's time to make advertising creativity great again

Make creativity great again

Cannes Lions last week saw the launch of a new IPA report by Peter Field. It found that the effectiveness of creatively-awarded advertising campaigns (a proxy for ‘creative’ campaigns) has fallen to its lowest level for over two decades.

Field is clear about what is to blame. Step forward the effectiveness serial killer: short-termism. There are more short-term campaigns and even longer-term ones are being judged on short-term results. So out goes the creatively-driven emotional storytelling with significant media spend behind it that drives growth.

Creativity is not short-termism’s first victim. It is the latest in a killing spree and the bodies are piling up. More on that here.

But Field also gave another reason for the decline, one that is very pertinent to Cannes. He has noticed that awards judges are bestowing creative awards on ‘disposable’ creativity. Put simply, creative awards are going to less effective campaigns, so creative effectiveness is plummeting.

At the same time as the IPA’s report came out, also in Cannes, Unilever’s chief executive, Alan Jope, bemoaned “woke-washing”: ad campaigns that make grand claims about improving the world when those claims are not supported by the brand’s actions. Say one thing, do nothing.

I think we can link Jope’s and Field’s observations. Adland’s wokeness and the decline in creative effectiveness may be related. Let’s call it woke-blindness.

Cannes Lions is about creativity in general, but advertising creativity is central to it. If you take a look at what campaigns won the Grand Prixes, all but a handful were for what you could call ‘woke’ initiatives - addressing issues such as accessibility, equality and sustainability. Obviously, tackling these issues should be applauded. But should it be so much awarded? Could this be having an impact on creative effectiveness?

It might feel good to award goodness, but is the advertising being awarded doing what it is there to do: use creativity to drive business performance, not just improve body language?

Either way, the IPA report shows that creatively-awarded advertising is not doing the business hard yards it used to. Something must be different – and it can’t be that creativity itself no longer works. So, Peter Field’s findings make sense: it is a combination of how creativity is currently deployed together with what is now being awarded.

Great creativity is what makes advertising interesting, both as a product and as an industry to work in. It’s what gets people talking about advertising, what makes it linger in our minds – what earns it the right to be in our lives in the first place, in fact. And it isn’t just nice to have; it is proven to be one of the most effective advertising strategies available to marketers, dramatically increasing effectiveness. It is must have.

That it is being undermined in any way should make everyone in advertising worry. Carry on and we’ll find ourselves in an industry that is less vibrant, less interesting, a lot less valuable, but with the same number of awards handed out. Luckily the IPA’s new analysis is a wake-up call to help us make advertising creativity great again.

Lindsay Clay is chief executive of Thinkbox.

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