Two “best of print” displays highlight stark contrast between effectiveness and creativity.

April 29, 2011

Deemed most effective…

Deemed most creative…

Have a look at the “most effective” print ads of 2010, as determined by GFK MRI Starch Communications, a specialist in print-advertising research. According to a report by Michal Galin in AdAge, Starch looked at nearly 90,000 print pieces in order to find the work “that did the best job of moving consumers, as a result of seeing the ad, toward purchase.”

Now look at the award winners for the 2010 Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) Kelly Awards for best magazine campaigns in terms of “creative excellence and campaign results;” a show, by the way, that I helped judge.

There is not one ad that appears on both scorecards. Not one. If I were a reporter my inclination would be to ask: what gives? If “results” are a primary category in both situations then shouldn’t there be considerable overlap?

But I’m not a reporter; I’m a copywriter and creative director blogging about a subject near and dear to my heart. And I wouldn’t ask such a question (at least not sincerely) because I already know the answer. For better or for worse, creative excellence and marketing results have little in common, at least when it comes to CPG and other big categories. The decisive results of these two shows are indicative of a decades-old reality that creativity and results are as different as Republicans and Democrats. This reality is by no means limited to print advertising but exists for all forms in all channels. And it always has. Always.

While creative awards shows have tried to add results as part of the judging criteria, it amounts to little more than lip service. We, and I speak for the vast majority of the creative community, just don’t like making or giving prizes to time tested, research driven advertising campaigns. We ding the work almost as soon as we see it. Why? Just review the slide show from the Starch test. In terms of aesthetics, most of those ads suck, featuring uninspired headlines and huge pictures of people and products. By every creative measure, they fail at surprising and delighting us, at breaking new ground.

On the other hand, the Kelly award winners show a high level of craft, defined by concept, writing and art direction. They are beautiful. They are stunning. And, in their own way, they have probably demonstrated solid results. But according the Starch, they are not the best at driving results.

If this is news to anyone they are either rookies or living under a rock. As I already noted, the dissonance between creativity and selling has been a back and forth argument for eons. There is no easy solution. Obviously, agencies try and ‘do both’ but in the end we either tend to make work that errs on the side of creativity or we push for salesmanship at the expense of aesthetics. Nothing sums it up like the old saw: Make the logo bigger!

And there are those of us who do fake ads to try and win awards because the real ads we make appease only our hack bosses and clients. This is a dangerous attitude and demeanor and I don’t recommend it.

Ironically, I worked on campaigns appearing on both lists. Not sure what that means but at least I’m not predictable.


6 Responses to “Two “best of print” displays highlight stark contrast between effectiveness and creativity.”

  1. jim schmidt said

    I would have to question the methodology. Starch has been pushing the effectiveness of shitty ads for years.

  2. As Jim says, the methodology was not explained well at all in AdAge. I tend to be kind of left-brained and wonkish and I have no clue how he derived results.

    Also consider that 90% of the supposedly “effective” ads were for household names that spend gobs on advertising and/or have unique cultural cachet such as Apple. It is far more indicative of effectiveness when a challenger or small brand moves the needle from a campaign.

  3. SRP said


    Totally agree w/ your points. Besides when the data comes from a place called “Starch” you expect it to be whitewashed!

    Still, the two lists dramatize how strong differences in Adland continue to be in this age-old debate.

  4. Will said

    If “creativity and results are as different as Republicans and Democrats”, what incentive is there for clients to ever take a chance on good creative? Obviously, many (most?) of them don’t, and this suggests they may be correct in doing so. But still, some of them do. There IS good creative out there, so clearly someone thinks it must be working for them, because I doubt they’re dying to line the pockets of the world’s top agency’s out of the goodness of their heart…

  5. catfish said

    Would the science of the research hold water in the world of scientific methodology? What is the criterion for most effective and how is it measured? Not that it isn’t scientific. I just would love to know. Maybe you should invite someone from Starch to answer this.

  6. Jake said

    I’m honestly surprised.

    When I first started in advertising, I read a book called “Cutting Edge Advertising,” and somewhere in there, the writer asserted that ‘studies’ had shown the most creative advertising has also been the most effective.

    This fit perfectly well with my thoughts, so I didn’t question it much. Until your posting. Now, of course, I’m skeptical (of these findings).

    For example, I would think Old Spice and All-State would be on both lists.

    In any event, it’s interesting. Thanks.

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