Is our creative investment really paying off?
That’s a big blind spot for a generation of marketers hyper-focused on media efficiency. In fact, most shy away from looking because it seems so much easier to pressure media into delivering more audience at a lower cost per thousand (CPM) and say you raised your return on investment. When marketers do look at creative, they evaluate and squeeze agencies on labor costs to get to the equivalent of a low CPM in production.
Because most agency agreements are based on time and materials, procurement can define and question how many people are working on the business and what they bill per hour. Unwittingly, they motivate and reward agencies to take longer and use more junior people to create content. Otherwise agencies can’t make enough profit to support the excellence that clients demand.
That’s the wrong efficiency. It puts the focus on input rather than output, and it pits marketing’s need for quality and speed against procurement’s mandate to wrest more services at a lower price.
Instead, marketers need to focus on expanding output. The true efficiency is in performance: advertising that’s better, faster and more effective.
Increasingly, we have the numbers to support the shift. Just as attribution research can pinpoint how people’s interactions with media lead them to shop and buy advertised products, advanced analysis of campaigns can identify which ads have the greatest impact.
Former Arnold Worldwide CEO Robert LePlae told me in a phone conversation that his company, Republic Performance Systems, can quantify the relationship between the quality, volume and speed of creative output. By factoring cost into the equation, he told me, it’s possible to identify the impact of cost-cutting and prevent destructive tradeoffs. LePlae said his team uses a variety of available data sources and evaluation methods, including in-market performance data, to help some of the world’s larger advertisers benchmark and continuously improve the performance of their suppliers.
As I see it, this kind of analysis enables marketers to focus on creative performance rather than point the magnifying glass on cost. That’s essential to the future of the ad/media ecosystem.
Marketers need quality output that meets the speed of a charging market. To provide it, agencies need to make significant margins on work that connects. And media needs to be amply rewarded for delivering an audience that pays attention.
Think of it as creative catching up to advancements in media. Media keep expanding formats and breaking new ground in targeting audiences and tracking impact across channels. Yet marketers still end up playing the omnichannel game with ads retrofitted from TV commercials, because agency creative and media teams rarely get it together.
As the ability to access media anywhere anytime spreads out an already distracted audience, creative quality only gets more crucial. Marketers need to recognize that media depends on advertising quality to deliver the time, attention and action they sign up for. Then they can stop making media the whipping boy for advertising’s dysfunction because it’s easy to cut CPMs and say you’re getting more bang for your buck.
Focusing on creative performance can restore a value basis to the agency relationship, so shops can earn the margins they need to put people with talent and experience on day-to-day work. They can stop fighting with procurement about labor metrics to get the money they need to operate at the highest level.
Creative and media both must focus on performance if advertising is to deliver business results.
Media is working hard on this. Creative needs to get in the game, and only marketers can make this happen. A focus on performance is the way to start.