Agency Search

How does Creativity Drive Sales?

Ask advertising industry and non-industry folk alike what makes for a great campaign and you’ll likely hear the same response – creativity. It’s something we can recognize and admire, like a sense of taste or style, but are not sure exactly where it comes from, how to replicate it for ourselves, or what about it specifically makes it work. And we struggle to confidently explain to others what aspects of creativity actually impact the bottom line for our companies.

Understanding creativity at a more nuanced level – and then finding it – is key to our marketing success. In an era where consumer attention is fleeting and pop culture amuses us continually, the task to design creative advertising campaigns that impact sales is more challenging than ever.

Not All Creativity is Equal

In a broad sense we know great client agency relationships exist because of their ability to bring creative thinking to market. But studies suggest there’s room to understand creativity in greater detail. In the early 2000s, Indiana University communications researcher Robert Smith and his colleagues set out to measure creativity using factors most relevant to an advertising context.

To start, let’s look at their top five measurable dimensions of creativity:

  1. Originality: elements that are surprising or that move away from the obvious
  2. Flexibility: smoothly links the product to a range of uses or multiple ideas
  3. Elaboration: ads that contain unexpected details so simple ideas become more intricate
  4. Synthesis: the blending or connecting normally unrelated objects or ideas
  5. Artistic Value: Aesthetically appealing verbal, visual or sound elements

A team lead by Werner Rienartz and Peter Saffert later used these 5 dimensions to compare an advertisement’s level of perceived creativity to its ability to impact sales. Not surprisingly is there a correlation – but some factors of creativity impact sales more than others.

Agencies tend to create ads high in originality and artistic value, but the research team found that ads using the magic combination of originality and elaboration showed almost double the impact on sales than the other dimensions.

Consider the campaign that was clear favorite of this year’s Super Bowl – Every Ad is a Tide Ad. This campaign series created by Saatchi and P&G featured David Harbour as he asked viewers to ponder one question: If every ad features clean clothes, isn’t it a Tide ad? The series featured Harbour interrupting advertising clichés and recognizable Super Bowl spots on behalf of the detergent. A surprising move away from the obvious? Check! The use of unexpected details to make a concept more intricate? Double check.

client agency realtionships


Perhaps it is an ad’s use of elaboration that determines its relevancy in today’s multi-channel media environment. The formula certainly translated for Tide; according to Talkwalker, an analytics firm, there were 163K mentions of the detergent during the game. Not too shabby.

Creativity born of Collaboration

Intricate and successfully orchestrated campaigns like Tide’s just can’t happen if client and agency are operating on different wavelengths. The campaign took months of preparation and represented a $15MM media buy on behalf of the brand. So how can other marketing leaders choose the right partners to replicate that kind of needle-moving magic?

Companies often churn through relationships with creative suppliers, continually seeking the magic answer as to where creativity relevant to their needs can come from. They are frustrated by agency behaviors in a few critical places to the point that it will undermine the constructive and affirming dynamic it takes to create extraordinary advertising campaign work together.

Marketing leaders also want to know how to inspire and extract it from creative resources consistently to produce the large volumes of creative work needed to compete in an era of continually produced content.

In response to the need to find a better way to find and work with creative partners, ROJEK pioneered a sourcing theory, and developed a proprietary methodology, to assess the organizational cultural fit between companies and their creative agencies. This approach articulates how cultural fit and shared core values improves collaborative team practices and positively impacts the overall creative work quality – and it works.

Is Creativity enough?

Once the fundamental compatibility of great client agency relationships is in place it takes a great deal of ongoing communication to continue to produce great work. And while creativity plays an important role in client satisfaction, it doesn’t actually rank at the top of the list.

In fact, according to Up to the Light’s 2017 ”What do Clients Want?” Report, ‘consistent, high quality creative work’ ranked third on the list of client expectations for agencies, behind the #2 – ‘challenge us’ and the very practical #1 – deliver work ‘on time and on budget’.

In addition, 87% of clients who had a weaker or more vulnerable relationship with their agency cited client service issues at the main reason. These show stoppers include being too slow to reveal problems, general sloppiness, poor communication, being overly defensive or stubborn, or failing to stick to the budget.

The lesson to be learned here is that an agency could be quite talented and capable of delivering sparks of pure creative genius – but overall relationship management and the ability deliver consistent high quality work is seen as more important to maintaining client agency relationships in the long run.

Yes – creativity will always be at the nucleus of what agencies can deliver to clients. It can’t be compromised or weighted down with the stumbles of poor communication or poor service quality. Finding and maintaining alignment in client agency relationships is importantly stage setting. With that in place, the hard work of creating ideas and advertising campaigns that captures the magic combination of elaboration and originality begins and if done well, makes the biggest difference on the bottom line.

It is this formula that leads to great work, happy clients and long-lasting partnerships, a clean sweep in our industry.