NEW YORK: Agency executives mix factors like gut instinct and experience with more analytical approaches when choosing which ideas to show clients, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Douglas C. West (King’s College London), George Christodoulides (Birkbeck/University of London) and Jennifer Bonhomme (Young & Rubicam/New York) examined how “individual choices are made about what to show clients in the absence of copy testing” based on a survey of 144 agency executives.

They outlined their findings in a paper entitled, How Do Heuristics Influence Creative Decisions at Advertising Agencies: Factors that Affect Managerial Decision Making When Choosing Ideas to Show the Client.

One headline learning was that “even within the same agency, different combinations of heuristics” – the name applied to decision-making techniques – “are used ... The study clearly demonstrates that the selection of creative solutions is not made in isolation.”

In breaking out the dynamics which determine what ideas are ultimately shown to clients, the authors identified four main categories.

The first, called “acknowledge” (31%), involved “default”, “recognition” and “fluency” factors – all “decision-making techniques based on past experience and generally used in choices that often routinely were made”.

As this approach relies on past experience and “routine decisions” made inside an agency, the authors noted, it may lead to “perceptually safe decisions”.

Next on the list came “top” (16%), which incorporated “instinct, satisficing, take the best, and tallying,” the research paper reported.

“These were all decisions based around an assessment of what would work best, either through innate gut feeling or on the basis of some degree of assessment at a rudimentary level.”

“Know-how” (10%) followed next, and “consisted of experience, hierarchy, and defer. These types of decisions were made by senior executives within the agency or people on the team who were deemed to have the most experience.”

“Breakdown” (8%) involved “those decisions based on a higher degree of analysis through the equality heuristic” – i.e. trying to blend all the available options – “and through algorithmic decision making”, the study added.

As indicated by this list, agency executives tap “pure” heuristics like instinct and majority voting, but also employ analytic, logical heuristics that may, for instance, make use of benchmarks and any available data.

This outcome, the authors noted, is “in line with the dual nature of advertising creativity: where artistry meets business objectives.”

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research