Creatively awarded campaigns are no more effective than non-awarded ones, says Peter Field. Here he outlines the research he presented at yesterday's WARC sessions in Cannes.

There has been a serious declining trend in the effectiveness of creatively awarded campaigns over the last ten years. The most recent IPA/WARC Rankings data, explored in the new Crisis of Creative Effectiveness report, confirms this continuing decline; creatively awarded campaigns are now less effective than they have ever been in the entire 24-year run of data and are now no more effective than non-awarded campaigns. We have arrived in an era where award-winning creativity typically brings little or no effectiveness advantage.

This collapse in effectiveness can be explained largely by the shift to short-term activation-focused creativity and the strategic and media trends this has promoted. We have known for many years that creativity delivers very little of its full potential over short time frames, yet the trend to short-term, disposable and ultimately inefficient creativity continues.

This general trend in marketing culture has been reinforced and exacerbated by creative judges increasingly awarding campaigns that pursue short-term goals. This has encouraged and rewarded a short-term mind-set, even though a short-term focus means those campaigns will inevitably under-perform in the long term.

Creative best practice is currently being overwhelmed by this poor practice, yet there are still campaigns showing how it should be done and delivering impressive effectiveness as a result. High-performing creatively awarded campaigns are eight times more effective than their low-performing peers in terms of the number of business effects they generate, and almost sixteen times more likely to bring major profitability growth.

These high performers are defined by a much more balanced approach to short- and long-term objectives. This is reflected in their more balanced allocation of media expenditure between brand building and sales activation, in line with latest best practice guidelines. Their campaigns stay in market long enough – typically at least six months – to embed behavioural change. They choose broader, earlier targeting of consumers rather than tightly targeted data-driven real-time communications linked to purchase intent. And they make much greater use of broad-reach, brand-building media, especially TV but also online video and OOH. None of these creative best practice strategies are difficult to implement.

This report argues that anyone who values creativity should stop encouraging the development of disposable creative ideas and stop squandering the use of creative firepower for tactical initiatives.

Instead, briefs should stress the importance of how ideas will strengthen the brand over time. Creative award shows also have a role to play; with separate classes of awards for short- and long-term creativity, to incentivise a rebalancing of creative endeavour in favour of long-term results. Left unchecked, the catastrophic decline in creative effectiveness will ultimately weaken support for creativity amongst general management. Money spent on creativity will have genuinely become ‘non-working’ budget.

Peter Field is a marketing researcher and consultant, who, with Les Binet from adam&eveDDB, has written a series of landmark studies on advertising effectiveness. The latest round of research was revealed on Wednesday during the WARC sessions in Cannes.