China Should Produce Better Advertising

Creativity Can Hugely Increase Effectiveness, Says O&M's Tim Broadbent in Beijing

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BEIJING ( -- China is an advertising giant but not a creative giant. Its advertising market, the second largest in the world, is forecast to grow by 16% this year, four times faster than the global average.

Current trends suggest it will overtake the U.S. market in the mid-2020s, a seismic shift in the balance of advertising power. Yet China's advertising creativity is low. In the creative award league table, it ranks below relatively small markets like Sweden or the Netherlands. Within Asia, China wins half as many creative awards as Japan, and, on an awards-to-billings ratio, fewer than India, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia or Thailand.

Tim Broadbent
Tim Broadbent
One might expect China to win more awards in the "new" media channels, digital and integrated, given its enthusiastic adoption of digital technology. But most of its awards are in the "old" media of print, cinema and TV. In these channels, it wins 21% as many creative awards as the U.S., while in digital and integrated channels it wins only 3% as many.

Perhaps Chinese marketers have not yet had the support or evidence to value creative awards. That seems to be the message of a study by research company Millward Brown comparing Chinese ads to ads from other Asian countries. Chinese ads are mainly used to convey product facts. They are more likely to show a demo of the product composition, together with multiple product messages. They are less likely to use humor or music, and, crucially, fewer appeal to the emotions.

However, a new analysis suggests creativity can hugely increase effectiveness. The analysis split campaigns entered for the IPA Effectiveness Awards into those that had won creative awards and those that had not. It turned out the creative campaigns sold eleven times harder than the non-creative campaigns.

An average effective campaign grows the brand's market share by 0.5% points per unit of communications weight. However, an effective and creative campaign grows market share by 5.7% points per unit of communications weight. That's eleven times more market share growth. Creativity gives a turbo boost to effective campaigns, leaving effective but not creative campaigns behind in the dust.

Where does the turbo boost come from?

There seem to be two factors. First, emotive campaigns are more likely to win creative awards and more likely to be effective, too. They are twice as likely to increase profits as rational campaigns, because they exploit the "hidden power" of advertising. Most brand learning is not actively processed: we pay little conscious attention to brand communications. However, when we choose between brands, our choice is influenced by markers created by past emotional experiences and learning. Logic persuades but only emotions motivate.

Second, creative campaigns are more likely to generate brand buzz. In the new communications age of consumer-generated content and social media, this benefit is multiplied many times over. Creative campaigns get discussed in chat groups, forums and Twitter aand searched on Google. Facebook groups emerge that love them, and they are imitated and parodied on YouTube. All this extra coverage, frequency and engagement costs nothing.

Advertisers may wonder whether the findings of the IPA research apply in Asia. We believe they do. This region's best creative campaigns share the same characteristics as the IPA collection, only more so. They are even more likely to exploit the power of emotions and create more brand buzz. It seems creativity sells the same way in Asia, including China, as it does globally.

We have identified five barriers to getting better creative work and suggest how to overcome them:

1. Is your pre-testing system obsolete?

Does your pre-testing system encourage creativity, or stifle it? It's easy to find out. Get the 10 best-scoring campaigns from your research supplier and review them with your agency's creative director. How many of them, if any, have won creative awards? Ask about the diagnostic feedback from the research company. Does it inspire and motivate the creatives, or reinforce mediocrity?

2. Is your creative approval process streamlined?

How many layers does creative work have to go through before it gets made? Are there people who can only say `No`? Is the initiator also the decider? Creative ideas can be stifled by bureaucracy. Our own David Ogilvy liked to quote a short verse in this connection: "Search the parks in all the cities. You`ll find no statues to committees."

3. Does your firm appreciate the importance of production values?

Your consumers probably do. High production values send a signal that you have confidence in the superiority of your brand, which produces more favorable brand perceptions.

4. Do you incentivize your agency for creativity?

Behavioral economics shows that practically all business behavior can be explained by incentives. If you congratulate your agency for winning creative awards, and make winning them part of the bonus package, it will try harder. But if you treat creative awards with indifference, so will your agency.

5. Do you practice "pervasive creativity"?

You will get a more creative product if every stage of the development process stimulates and inspires, from the marketing brief, to the creative brief, to the research, to the pre-production meeting. Every contact with the agency is an opportunity to challenge it to do better creative work.

Tim Broadbent is Ogilvy & Mather's global effectiveness director, based in Beijing.

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