Ann Marie Kerwin, WARC’s Americas Editor, discusses the third instalment of WARC’s “Marketing Truths” podcast series, which looks at how creativity can supercharge effectiveness.

Podcast episode

Marketing Truth #3: Creativity supercharges marketing's impact
with Jim DeLash, marketing director, GSK direct & long-tail customer acquisition, vaccines, US

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WARC’s mission is to uncover the elements of marketing that boost impact, overdeliver on hard metrics and can be proven to drive growth.

Creativity, repeatedly in the last two decades, has been proven to significantly increase marketing effectiveness. It is also the one tool that is fully within a marketer’s control. Spending levels and media use, for example, often come with trade-offs and compromises, but there are no such constraints on a marketer embracing and deploying a highly creative idea.

One case in point: A recent analysis of 5,000 award-winning campaigns in the WARC archives, covering the period from 2015 to 2022, found that those which are highly awarded for creativity are significantly more likely to be effective.

In the short run, creatively-awarded campaigns grab attention and generate fame at twice the level of non-awarded campaigns. In the long run, creatively-awarded campaigns are more likely to convince people the featured brand is better quality, thus reducing price sensitivity and creating connections between the brand and consumers.

Creativity in context

This third episode of “Marketing Truths” highlights why creativity is even more crucial if a category is seen as dull or typically leans on rational persuasion. It builds on the first episode, which focused on the importance of effectiveness over efficiency, and the second episode, which explored the greater marketing impact delivered by having a strong brand.

In terms of creativity, brands often favor functional or rational messaging in their ads when a product requires technical explanation or comes with legal restrictions. But more creative techniques, such as storytelling or emotional appeals, are better at capturing attention, driving engagement and making an emotional impression. The latter outcome, in turn, leads to brand-building effects that last.

Another consequence of producing dull ads is that they require more media spending to achieve the same effects that a highly-creative ad can in a shorter amount of time. Indeed, a recent study found it would cost $228 billion in extra spending for dull TV ads to generate the market share growth achieved by the most impactful spots.

Pharma proves the importance of creativity

Pharmaceutical marketing is not exactly known for its break-out creative, but as Jim DeLash, marketing director for GSK, Vaccines, US, notes in this podcast episode, he’s seen how more creative messages have worked to drive results.

If a pharma company has a new, blockbuster drug, it’s relatively easy to drive business in the early days, notes DeLash. Early adopters have been following the drug’s development and know when it will gain approval; those early adopters react to rational messages about the drug’s efficacy and benefits because they are already bought in and are ready to act.

The challenge kicks in for the next group of potential buyers, who aren’t already aware of the drug. They need reasons to act – and this is where creativity can be an advantage in connecting with that group and triggering action.

If that next group sees an unengaging or too rational ad, DeLash reports, the dull effect kicks in “That means now you've got to keep running these ads more and more.

“You might eventually get to the goal, but it feels like it’s almost under duress, as opposed to desire. [It’s] like the audience finally gives in and will click on something or go to a website or do something that we've been hoping they would do. It'd be a lot easier if we just had better ads to begin with.”

DeLash has also found that when the emotional storytelling campaigns to physicians and consumers match, marketing is more effective. It’s an advantage when the doctor and patient are both referencing the same reasons for taking action when it comes to vaccines, which are preventative.

There isn’t always a trigger to take action when the outcome is a potentially dangerous illness, however. Both doctor and patient must understand why a vaccine can be advantageous sooner rather than later.

“The whole goal is to get patients in to talk to the physician and then educate the physician on the message as well,” DeLash says. “We found that when we're talking about the product in the same kind of way, it's better.”

Moving GSK’s marketers towards a better understanding of creative effectiveness is important to DeLash, who often presents to the team, and their agencies, as to why putting creativity first will deliver results.

“Every year, I send out the latest John Lewis Christmas ad to the team and we respond, ‘Hey, did you cry during this one?’” DeLash says. “It's just a way to subtly reinforce the importance of creative. And I've told the John Lewis story internally many times, about how competitive their situation was in 2009, and how they were losing sales, and how emotional creativity just changed everything for them.”

While pharma is an industry where regulatory concerns are often at the fore, and which is generally known for a more cautious approach to creativity, that is a decision and a mindset, rather than an inevitability.

“Emotional advertising is just as important, and maybe more so, in pharmaceuticals as it is in any other industry,” DeLash believes.

WARC's Marketing Truths series