Advertisers that seek to produce media-neutral work may achieve heightened consistency across channels but risk a loss of creativity, a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) has found.

Alexander Tevi (Nottingham Trent University), Scott Koslow and Josh Parker (both Macquarie University) examined this subject in a paper entitled, Can media neutrality limit creative potential? How advertising’s use of ideation templates fares across media.

“Planners, clients, and other strategists often set a goal of producing media-neutral creative executions that can work around and adjust to media-strategic needs across a variety of disparate, fragmented media,” they asserted.

“This is the reverse of a traditional preference – some say bias – often seen among creative professionals who appear fixated on particular, predetermined media to execute highly creative ideas.”

Generally, the rationale for media neutrality runs as follows: “If agencies can forget about media for a moment and place the consumer and brand relationship as central to advertising, they should be able to develop great creative ideas that can be expressed equally well in all media.”

This notion was tested with an experiment that involved 207 creative professionals who crafted mock TV and print ads for a fictitious utility van.

Specifically, these creatives were split into groups that used different ideation techniques. One “media-dependent” approach was a “unification” model that makes creative uses of media, while another involved the use of metaphors.

Another group of creatives used “extreme consequence” ideation, a message-based technique that “exaggerates the benefit of the product or service”. Finally, a control group was “at liberty to use any technique they chose”.

One important finding was that tapping particular “ideation techniques can work well for creative staff” – with unification-based and metaphor-based approaches scoring higher than the control treatment in terms of creative perception.

“In creativity, media matter. This finding has significant implications for the ideal of media neutrality,” Tevi, Koslow and Parker added.

A related insight from their work was that “the creative ideas represented by templates impose real limits and introduce trade-offs”.

Media-dependent approaches, they continued, may result in a relative “lack of coherency” but also deliver greater creativity. By contrast, message-dependent approaches deliver greater consistency while scoring lower in terms of creativity.

“One just may need to emphasize certain media because the story is told best that way. In the end, those seeking media neutrality in advertising need to understand that often ‘something’s gotta give’ – even in the magical realm of creativity,” the authors wrote.

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff