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Study: Ad Creative Drives More Sales Lift than Media, Targeting

At the Place Conference last month, Walter Geer, VP and creative director at Verve, said that data is like marketing fuel and the creative is the vehicle that the fuel goes in. In other words, marketers may have access to data and customer insights that aid in targeting and reach, but it is the creative that actually drives results.

A new study from Nielsen and Nielsen Catalina Solutions (NCS), which analyzed over 500 brand campaigns, reinforced this point. Almost half (49%) of sales lift from advertising was due to “creative,” defined to include ad quality, messaging and the context of the ad placement. Another 36% of sales lift was attributed to media (reach, targeting, recency) and 15% to brand factors like price, brand penetration, etc.

To further reinforce the importance of creative, a study from Ipsos shows that “creative quality determines 75% of impact as measured by brand and ad recall.”

While creative may have the greatest influence on sales and brand recall, you wouldn’t know it from the headlines around digital advertising. Most of the discussion centers on data, targeting and attribution and “the customer experience.”

The idea of “good creative” is abstract and challenging to discuss. The creative elements of an ad (i.e., color choices, messaging and presentation) are typically more in the realm of aesthetics or psychology than “science.” And digital advertising has been rapidly evolving in that direction over the past several years.

However, “creative” should be seen as more than the surface aesthetics of an ad. It should be redefined to include the entire context and targeting methodology of a campaign.

Increasing volumes of data, especially location data, have opened the door to new strategies and tactics for targeting, media placement, attribution and more. Marketers should see all ad content and targeting methods in relation to each other in order to deliver compelling ads that influence outcomes.

For example, if a consumer has expressed interest in a specific shoe, that doesn’t always make that person an ideal candidate for ads about that shoe. Retargeting often pushes the shoe ad to someone who has already purchased those same shoes.

Marketers might ask themselves what does this shoe say about the customer? Is it an athletic shoe, a hiking shoe? What does this suggest about the consumer’s lifestyle? There may be related insights available.

Brands can often take interest in one thing and turn it into demand for another (think Amazon’s “commonly purchased together” feature). So while marketers test creative (copy and design), the same kind of experimentation and creativity should be applied to planning, placement and targeting. While many do this today, all marketers should think more expansively, keep experimenting and testing.

The studies mentioned above place a clear emphasis on creative, which is under-invested in. But all the behind the scenes work and data should inform the creative. Marketers need to approach ads holistically, considering all variables (content, placement, media, audience, etc.) together during the “creative process.”

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