David Tiltman, SVP of content at WARC, provides details of the new Creative Impact content stream co-created by WARC and LIONS, due to launch at the Cannes Lions Festival in June.

The announcement of AB InBev as the 2023 Creative Marketer of the Year means the countdown to this year’s Cannes Lions in three months is on. And it’s fair to say this year’s Festival will feel a little different.

2023 is the year Cannes Lions truly embraces effectiveness. WARC is working with the team at LIONS to co-curate a new content stream at the Festival called Creative Impact. Over the next few weeks you will be hearing a lot about this – and the amazing speaker line-up we’re putting together.

The emphasis is as much on ‘creative’ as it is ‘impact’. The goal is to be the place where the industry talks about creative effectiveness – what it means right now and how to achieve it.

So why are we doing this now?

For me, there are two big reasons why this is an ideal time to talk about creative impact.

1. New evidence on what works

One question we are asked repeatedly at WARC is how to make a case for creativity.

Given the economic volatility over the past few months, maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. At a time when budget pressure is growing and audiences are fragmenting, the creative idea is seen in some quarters as an anachronism. In the 2023 State of Creativity survey by LIONS, 25% of respondents said there had been a reduction in investment in creativity due to economic pressures, while 24% felt there was a greater focus on proving the effectiveness of creativity.

But the question has always struck me as odd. The evidence that ‘creativity works’ has existed for years. Pretty much every time anyone has looked into it, creativity has always come out as the biggest variant that can determine campaign success – or, at least, the biggest one a marketer can actually control.

Here are some of the best known ‘classic’ proof points over the years:

  • In a 2014 study, Data2Decisions found that, after brand and market size, creativity was the single biggest determinant of advertising profitability.
  • In 2017, Nielsen Catalina Solutions estimated that creative has a 47% ‘sales contribution’ to advertising effectiveness (more than any other input).
  • In 2010, UK ad researcher Peter Field found that creative award winners were 10 times more efficient in generating share growth (per point of ESOV).

Plus, only a few weeks ago, a new piece of research from WARC and Kantar found that high-quality creative drove four times the profit ROI of low-quality creative.

Yet, for all that, the major breakthroughs in effectiveness research over the past couple of decades have arguably focused on the other variables – budget, media priorities, ‘mental and physical availability’ – or on debating how to define and apply phrases like ‘long’ and ‘short-term’ or ‘brand’ and ‘performance’.

As a result, we know so much more about how marketing investment works. But the focus has not been on the messaging itself – what types of creativity work, how they work, what they need to achieve. Sure, the research talks about emotion. But ‘emotion’ is as much a catch-all term as ‘creativity’.

I think this is set to change.

We’re seeing a flurry of new research into creativity’s role in effectiveness.

Companies like CreativeX (who spoke on the WARC stage in Cannes last year) are using machine learning to analyse and score creativity. They argued last year that one way creativity works is to make media more efficient.

The ‘attention’ debate is expanding from media to creativity. This was clear in the latest research from Australia’s ACA. And researchers like DAIVID are looking at the connections between creativity and attention, using machine learning to look at what captures attention at scale.

Stalwarts like System1 are showing how great creativity doesn’t wear out. And System1’s Orlando Wood has been vocal on the creative styles that work best (and noted how little advertisers are using them).

Plus the industry is starting to have grown-up conversations about what purpose is or isn’t, and why advertising has become so much less funny over the years.

For me, the key question is no longer “does creativity work?”, but “what types of creativity?”. And “when and how are they best applied?”

2. In a tough climate, creativity is working

As we at WARC have reported on the gloomy economic climate over the past year, what has struck me is the positive stories coming out of those brands that really invest in creativity. And I don’t just mean the rocket ship of Liquid Death.

AB InBev is the poster child for this. I’ve lost track of how many times a senior marketer has told me they want to “do an AB InBev”. After overhauling its marketing operations pre-pandemic, it has become the first brand in the Festival’s history to win Cannes Lions Creative Marketer of the Year twice in succession, and for two years running has been top of both the WARC Creative 100 and the WARC Effective 100 (surely the closest the industry has to an EGOT). It has transformed from brand buyer to brand builder – the latest analyst call has repeated mentions of investment in marketing as a driver of organic growth and premiumisation. And, as CMO Marcel Marcondes outlined last year, its creative winners are also its fastest growers.

McDonald’s is another company worth mentioning – in Cannes last year the company’s senior director for global brand marketing Joan Colletta shared some of its story. Notable is a recognition that the company needed to reinvest in creativity to reconnect with culture. The very effective Famous Orders campaign was one result. The recent ‘Raise your arches’ work was another. (It probably helped that they could recruit Les Binet to convince the CFO.)

And then there’s Diageo – a leading brand in terms of assessing marketing’s contribution to business outcomes. It has been open about its ability to build and protect price premiums through creative brand-building. Check out this quote from the company’s CFO (that’s right, the CFO): “As we invest in the business, we strengthen our brand equity, and we’re able to drive more price, drive more productivity, drive more premiumisation, drive volume growth, drive market share growth, and that allows us to continue to invest in the business.”

What comes through from all of these stories is the importance of culture when it comes to creative effectiveness. Specifically:

  • The commitment within an organisation to invest in creative marketing as a means of delivering broader corporate objectives, and the translation of that commitment into a common language and a clear operating rhythm. What’s interesting about AB InBev’s success in the WARC Rankings is the scale of the wins. In the WARC Creative 100 2023 alone, 21 brands won points across 10 markets. Its success is not a one-off.
  • The realisation that creativity needs investment to work – it is a supercharger of budget, not a side hustle.
  • A recognition that creative effectiveness is a ‘team sport’ running from client team to agency partners, and across the teams within the agencies. There are a lot of stars that need to align to make work that works consistently at scale.

Culture is arguably a ‘missing link’ in effectiveness research – we’re doing some fascinating research on this at the moment and will be releasing the first findings in Cannes.

So what questions do we need to answer?

As we’re building out the Creative Impact track for Cannes Lions, we’ve asked ourselves what big questions we want the content to answer. In other words, what do you need to know to build a business through creativity in 2023?

We’ve got six of them. We could probably have had double that – but these are the ones we’re focusing on.

1. Proving creativity works in disruptive times

Inflation, war, banking crises – at a time of political and economic volatility, how can marketers argue for and apply creativity to weather the storm? How do they convince the CFO that the right types of creativity are not a luxury?

2. Connecting creativity and commerce

How does creativity drive business impact as commerce moves online, new platforms emerge, and purchase is only a click away?

3. Uniting creativity and media 

How do brands navigate a fragmenting media and content landscape, and build ideas that can work across it? How do creativity and media work together for maximum impact?

4. Rethinking purpose

A decade of ‘purpose’ has divided the industry – do we need a new approach to 21st-century creative effectiveness?

5. Building a culture of creative effectiveness 

What are the conditions required within a brand – and between a brand and its agencies – to unlock creative effectiveness?

6. Breakthrough thinking 

What are the new ways of thinking about the business of creativity? Who are the organisations or the individuals showing how to build a business through creativity in 2023?

If we can make progress on these, then we will be well on the way to understanding creativity’s role in effective marketing in the current landscape. See you in Cannes!