It’s official: ads are worse than they used to be, and if we don’t address that we’re all screwed.

There’s a crisis in advertising creativity.

I know what you’re thinking: “Yes, Ben. I’ve been reading your blog for a while. That’s all you ever bang on about. Give it a rest.”

But this is different. It’s ‘official’ because it’s confirmed by a report from the IPA. (The report is actually a year old, but nothing has improved.)

Tempted as I am to simply cut and paste the whole thing here, I’ll leave you to click on the above link. But for the time-poor among you, here are some highlights:

The report The Crisis in Creative Effectiveness covers almost 600 case studies from 1996 to 2018 and is a follow-up to the IPA’s 2016 publication Selling Creativity Short that warned of the dangers to creative effectiveness posed by short-termism in marketing and highlighted a misunderstanding of how brands grow.

According to revered effectiveness expert and report author Peter Field*, creatively awarded campaigns are now less effective than they have been in 24 years of data analysis and are now no more effective than non-awarded campaigns.

The Report also reveals the continuing decline in the efficiency** of creatively awarded campaigns. Over the pre-crisis period 1996-2008 creatively awarded campaigns were around 12 times as efficient as non-awarded ones, but over the period from 2006-2018, as the crisis developed, this fell to below four times as efficient. It continues to fall and creativity is almost certainly delivering no overall efficiency advantage today.

You might recall how I have often posited that great advertising generally slowed to a trickle around 2008 and (Cadbury’s Gorilla). Yes, of course there have been great ads since then (I’m looking at you, Old Spice, Dumb Ways To Die and You Can’t Beat A Londoner), but the rate has slowed considerably. I blamed that on the rise of digital/social/search, but there was also a monumental economic crash at the end of that year, so it may have been a perfect storm of newly-prioritised short-termism, coupled with the means to address it in the least creative ways possible.

This report suggests that short-termism in advertising and, crucially, the awarding of short-term ads is an ouroboros that means we’re stuck in a short-term mindset that will eventually consume itself, leaving behind nothing of value.

As the report states:

“…left unchecked, the catastrophic decline in creative effectiveness will ultimately weaken support for creativity amongst general management. Money spent on creativity will become ‘non-working’ budget and will be cut.”

So if creative ads don’t actually work any better than non-creative ads (eg: the stuff you find on Facebook, and Google’s SEO fun), no one is going to take the time, effort or money to support them.

And that’s bad, isn’t it? Do you want to live in that world? More to the point, do you want to work in the advertising industry in that world? Of course you don’t. But if you’re not sticking up your hand and objecting to that world, either as a creative, CD or member of a jury you are making that world happen.

To be clear, I’m not blaming you. I’m certain I’ve done this myself (although I have also railed against it). But here’s where the rubber hits the road. If you can’t do something about this directly, show this report to someone who can. Enroll a client in the benefits of longer-term thinking. Petition D&AD to split awards into those for short-term ads (prize: some used loo roll), and those for long-term ads (prize: a bright shiny trophy). Question the legitimacy of a brief that has an ephemeral, ineffective short-term gain as its goal…

Otherwise, we’re going to be in more trouble than we are right now, and right now we’re in a lot of trouble.