Picture: istock
Picture: istock

There has in recent years been an acknowledgement that effective advertising requires more than just being creative. According to research company Nielsen Catalina Solutions, the creative aspect remains crucial and is arguably one of the most important factors in campaign success, but a number of other elements also contribute including reach, targeting, recency and context.

The research also considers the impact of brand factors related to the intrinsic characteristics including price and penetration which also impact the effectiveness of an advertising campaign.

Given the proliferation of available data, is it getting harder to prove that advertising communication is responsible for a campaign’s effectiveness, rather than other factors such as price? And how important is creativity in ensuring a campaign’s success?

While the advertising industry tends to see creative output as the holy grail, Ivan Moroke, this year’s Apex jury chair, believes the creative element is a means to an end rather than the end itself.  “Ultimately, creativity is a way of achieving return on investment [ROI] and ROI is what will provide the advertising and marketing profession a seat at the boardroom table.”

However, the uncomfortable reality is that not all creative advertising is effective and – as Moroke concedes – creativity is subjective. “The bottom line is that if it works, it’s effective, irrespective of how creative it is,” he says.

That’s not to say that advertising should not encourage creativity in pursuit of ROI. Creativity and effectiveness are not mutually exclusive, and there is little doubt that creativity serves the vital purpose of connecting brands and consumers, allowing engagement with consumers. A creative ad evokes emotion – and consumers tend to purchase with their hearts before their heads.

The Apex awards are the only awards in SA for advertising effectiveness and campaign performance. It’s notoriously difficult to win an Apex: this year just one gold was awarded, and an entire category went unrewarded. This is not unusual, says Moroke: there have been years in which not a single gold was awarded, so as not to compromise the Apex standards.

The big take-out

Creativity is not the only factor that determines the effectiveness of advertising campaigns.

The Apex awards recognise effectiveness and campaign performance in three categories: launch (brands and services less than a year old with no significant history of advertising); change (new campaigns for previously advertised products with a significant short-term effect on sales and/or behaviour); and sustain (campaigns that benefited a business by maintaining or strengthening a brand over a long period). This year no award was made in the sustain category.

In fact, the sustain category tends to have the lowest number of entries each year, he says, which is indicative of the short-term focus in marketing. “Clients are under pressure to deliver short- to medium-term results – it’s the new normal and unlikely to change any time soon,” says Moroke.

The Apex awards are all about proving that the communication rather than other marketing efforts contributed to the success of the campaign – and yes, creativity is an element of the communication mix. “Entrants need to provide conclusive proof that it was the advertising communication that caused the success of the campaign, rather than a price promotion, for example,” points out Moroke.

But many of this year’s entries failed to elicit this judges attention not because the campaign was necessarily ineffective but because they didn’t prove their case sufficiently. “They made very elementary mistakes that could have been avoided.”

And while data can make it easier to prove effectiveness, how that data is extrapolated is key.

Moroke says he was encouraged by the increase in entries this year, particularly the number of new agencies and brands entering the awards for the first time. “In previous years it has always been the same agencies and brands entering. This year, however, we received a number of entries from first-time entrants and brands.”

This year, a special award recognising the most ingenious response to limited advertising or research funds was won by Grey SA, for its NSPCA dog fight campaign.

Apex 2018 winners