Marketers seeking to maximise the impact of their creative work can now draw on a six-stage framework outlined in “The Effectiveness Code”, a new white paper released by Cannes Lions and WARC that is based on the analysis of nearly 5,000 case studies.

“The Effectiveness Code”, which was officially unveiled during the Lions Live online conference, is available to download at no cost here. It is based on in-depth research undertaken by James Hurman, founding partner at innovation consultancy Previously Unavailable, and marketing consultant Peter Field.

And it introduces the Creative Effectiveness Ladder, a schematic that establishes the levels of impact that creative marketing produces.

There are six levels of the Creative Effectiveness Ladder – and they form a hierarchy of effects

Go deeper: The Effectiveness Code

To learn more about The Effectiveness Code:

A campaign on the bottom rung of the Ladder represents an Influential Idea, which performed strongly in terms of engagement and sharing, meaning an initiative over-indexes on campaign metrics and media efficiency. To achieve this, act in a way that’s the opposite of how big companies normally act; capitalise on a major media or cultural moment; take the side of the consumer and fight against injustice. 

Next comes a Behaviour Breakthrough, a tier of campaigns that employ creativity to change customer behaviours or prompt other behavioural shifts that are important to the brand. To achieve this, set a clear behavioural goal; orient the creative idea around a clear behavioural outcome; make the new behaviour more attractive. 

A Sales Spike, the third level on the Ladder, results when marketing efforts yield a temporary lift in sales, market share or profitability. To achieve this, use creativity to make sales promotions mega-engaging; use stunts, events and experiential marketing in highly creative ways; use ‘Big Tactics’ to achieve large results with seemingly small ideas. 

For a campaign to reach the fourth step on the Ladder, it must be a Brand Builder that improves key metrics of brand health – such as awareness, purchase intent, consideration and ownership of a particular attribute. To achieve this, forge a bond with the brand by championing the consumer; tap into existing brand strengths; get super-specific about the brand attributes you want to work on. 

The penultimate step on the ladder, a Commercial Triumph, occurs when creativity leads to profitable increases in sales and market share beyond a single quarter or a campaign’s duration. To achieve this, use the timeless power of emotional storytelling; involve the consumer in your idea; use packaging as lead media – creative effectiveness’ best-kept secret. 

And the pinnacle of the Creative Effectiveness Ladder is the Enduring Icon, a campaign that uses creativity to fuel brand and sales growth over a period of three years or more. To achieve this, find a genuinely enduring insight; find a limitless idea; commit to the long term upfront, and stick to it.

Marketing initiatives in this category also stick with the same creative strategy or creative work throughout the campaign, delivering sustained commercial benefits.

Building the Creative Effectiveness Ladder with almost 5,000 case studies

In developing the Creative Effectiveness Ladder, Hurman and Field studied 4,863 effectiveness award entrants and winners submitted in the period from 2011 and 2019.

More specifically, this in-depth analysis drew on 1,031 cases from the Cannes Creative Effectiveness Lions database, as well as 3,616 cases from the WARC database and 216 cases from the IPA Databank.

It also built on interviews conducted by Hurman and Field with a committee of leading executives in strategy and planning – and the subsequent learnings that the industry needed a common definition and language of effectiveness.

Three drivers of “Creative Commitment”: spend, campaign duration, media channels

Hurman and Field made a further discovery in their analysis: namely, that marketing effectiveness is heavily influenced by what they described as Creative Commitment.

This notion is premised on three different “levers” that can each boost campaign performance, in the form of spend, duration, and the number of media channels used.

Creativity, they noted, is a fourth impactful lever – as indicated by the fact that creatively-awarded campaigns are much more effective overall, and when broken out at every level of Creativity Commitment.

“The message here is not that creative-award-worthy work is automatically effective. Rather that, if we have a well-planned and insightful strategy, we can magnify and supercharge the effectiveness of that strategic thinking with work that has creative-award-winning qualities,” Hurman said.

While Creative Commitment represents an important concept, Field noted that it stands in contrast to a growing tendency among marketers to favour short-term initiatives that have a lesser impact.

“Over the past five years, the marketing and advertising industry has increasingly reduced the Creative Commitment, which significantly mitigates the return on investment,” he said.

“We urge that marketers and their agencies work to reverse this trend, in the interests of improving both the effectiveness of their efforts and the overall value and reputation of marketing.”

The Creative Effectiveness Ladder can be used to drive continuous improvement

One of the main uses for the Creative Effectiveness Ladder is identifying the best creative work at each of the six levels in order to discover how to achieve various types of critical marketing outcomes.

Another aim of the Ladder is to act as a continuous improvement tool for agencies and clients in assessing their own work over time.

Simon Cook, the managing director of Cannes Lions – which, like WARC, is owned by Ascential – suggested that this framework will help demonstrate the payoffs of long-term, creative marketing.

“Cannes Lions is committed to addressing the global community’s challenges with short-termism and proving the value of creative marketing. The Creative Effectiveness Ladder is a tool for change and the start of the mission,” he said.

“We’re currently working with the industry to identify how the Ladder can be used as a tool to judge the Creative Effectiveness Lion so that the global benchmark in creative and effective work is underpinned by this step forward in effectiveness.”

Andrew Geoghegan, global consumer planning director at Diageo, elaborated on this topic in “The Effectiveness Code” by outlining how the alcoholic drinks company will leverage this resource.

“The Effectiveness Ladder will now enable us to talk holistically and objectively about our marketing campaigns, identify future opportunities, and encourage teams to elevate more of our work to the top rung. It will be especially useful at those important moments when we take a step back to take stock and plan the future,” he said.

How to climb the ladder? Reaching the upper levels of the ladder is all about creating work that delivers brand-building and commercial results over a sustained period. Here are the key principles of climbing the Creative Effectiveness Ladder:

1. Set the right objectives. If you’re looking for a Sales Spike, set a three-month sales objective, run a fast campaign, and measure it at the end of three months. But if you’re looking for a Commercial Triumph, set a 12-month sales objective, with a campaign duration to match, and measure it at the end of the year. If you want an Enduring Icon, plan a three-year campaign and stick with it.

2. Budget realistically. If you want your brand to grow, the rule of thumb is that your share of voice needs to be higher than your share of market. If you’re at 20% market share and your budget is only 10% of total category spend, it’s unrealistic to expect growth.

3. Resist the pressure to carve your brand's marketing budget up into tiny increments. Many short-term, small budget campaigns are not as effective for a brand as a balance of fewer short-term activations and more longer-term brand and sales building campaigns.

4. Plan a robust, insightful strategy. Ensure absolute clarity of your objectives, and an insightful understanding of what will make consumers respond in a way that will achieve those objectives. Look to the winning behaviours at each Ladder Level to inspire your thinking.

5. Choose highly creative work. Even though it may seem riskier, the data evidence is conclusive that work with creative award-winning qualities is far more likely to be effective than ordinary work. A robust, insightful strategy is a must – and once this is in place, buy the campaign idea that delivers on the strategy in the most original and engaging way.

6. Maximise creative output. Use the levers of media budget, campaign duration and number of media channels to drive Creative Commitment up as far as possible for each campaign.

7. Land and expand. If you’re seeing great results from a campaign, view that as a sign to ramp up the work rather than moving on from it. Give the campaign more budget, run it for longer, and spread it across more channels. If you’ve got a tiger by the tail, don’t let go.

Lions Live is a free digital event taking place all this week. You can read the agenda and access the live feed here.

Sourced from WARC, Cannes Lions