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When and How Advertising Creativity Works

When and How Advertising Creativity Works

Sara Rosengren, Martin Eisend, Scott Koslow and Micael Dahlen

Marketers are increasingly skeptical of advertising creativity as they face an economic recession and revenue pressure due to COVID-19. A new Journal of Marketing study discusses why decreasing investments is a mistake and how marketers can maximize ROI from advertising creativity. 

Our research team finds robust empirical evidence that advertising creativity has significant positive effects on consumer responses, with no indication that this effect is becoming less (or more) effective over time. However, any judgements of creativity are subjective and contextual. Our team shows that in order to be effective, advertising creativity should be thought about as a bipartite construct comprising both originality and appropriateness and consumers (rather than experts or award shows) should be used to judge it.


We also find contexts in which advertising creativity is more impactful: 

First, advertising creativity has a stronger effect on attitudinal outcomes than memory outcomes. This suggests that the value of creativity is derived less from its ability to cut through clutter and increase memory and more from the positive signals that it sends.

Second, we find that effects are stronger for high-involvement contexts. For marketers, this challenges the established view of advertising as a tool for gaining attention and suggests that creativity is especially valuable in contexts where consumers are likely to process advertising, such as for products they find important or in media contexts that consumers voluntarily seek out (for example, branded content on social media or a webpage).

Third, we find that it has marginally stronger effects for unfamiliar compared to familiar brands. By investing, unfamiliar brands can increase the value of their advertising to consumers. This suggests that advertising creativity is especially valuable when establishing a new brand in the market.

Our findings also explain why advertising creativity has positive effects. More specifically, we find that creative ads are more liked, are more processed, and signal that the brand has put effort into them. These three mechanisms jointly lead to positive consumer response. However, liking is mostly tied to originality whereas signaling requires appropriateness. By investing in bipartite advertising creativity, marketers can therefore increase the chance that their ads will be liked, processed, and interpreted as signals of what the brand has to offer. Although marketers who focus on originality can expect positive effects due to affect transfer, they will miss out on the potential effects of signaling and appropriateness.

Taken together, the results give marketers evidence of the value of advertising creativity. When investing in creativity, marketers should focus on both originality and appropriateness. The effects of advertising creativity as a marketing signal are especially important to consider because they offer the strongest explanation for the effects. Advertising creativity can produce effects by way of the signals it sends rather than the specific message it conveys. Signals are especially important in situations where there is information asymmetry between marketers and customers. This is arguably the case for unfamiliar brands and high-involvement products, but also in other situations where the decision-making process is complex, such as business-to-business (B2B), business-to-government (B2G), and recruitments contexts. In fact, although beyond the scope of the present study, recent research suggests that the effect of advertising signals extend beyond consumers to other stakeholders such as employees and investors.

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From: Sara Rosengren, Martin Eisend, Scott Koslow, and Micael Dahlen, “A Meta-Analysis of When and How Advertising Creativity Works,” Journal of Marketing.

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Sara Rosengren is Professor, Center for Retailing, Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden.

Martin Eisend is Professor, Marketing Department, European University Viadrina, Germany.

Scott Koslow is Professor, Department of Marketing, Macquarie University, Australia.

Micael Dahlen is Professor, Center for Consumer Marketing, Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden.