Kim Benjamin
May 8, 2014

ROI: Still no measure for creative effectiveness

Without a robust model for assessing work, clients are not satisfied they can trust agencies to deliver performance-driven results.

Measuring up: Agencies under pressure to prove ideas work
Measuring up: Agencies under pressure to prove ideas work

Creative agencies are not doing enough to reinforce the benefits of creative work they can add to a brand’s bottom line and are struggling to find a balance between creativity and performance. 

A 2013 survey of chief executives in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia conducted by Fournaise Marketing Group, found that 78 per cent of respondents do not trust their advertising and media agencies to create effective campaigns because they have lost faith in their ability to deliver performance-driven results.

“Creative agencies are notoriously ineffective in measuring the success of their work,” says Aseem Puri, Unilever’s marketing director for fabric cleaning in Asia. “So far, for Unilever most of the agencies [we use] do not have a robust model for assessing their work. Instead we, as clients, tend to measure their work a lot more in terms of relationship to advertising recall and sales.”

With this in mind, what metrics can be used to measure creative effectiveness? TBWA’s regional head of strategy Robin Nayak says these will vary according to the task at hand: for instance the main effect required of a brand campaign is a lift in residual brand consideration (and net promoter scores) whereas the success of a new product introduction will be more heavily defined by clear sales results.

SAY IT LOUD: Award-winning creative work drives business growth

CASE STUDY: Huggies shows it cares

Tim Williams, founder of US-based Ignition Consulting Group, says some progressive agencies are willing to tie their compensation to external metrics of success, rather than to the internal metric of time, and are experimenting with a number of measurements. These range from transactional metrics such as sales, market share and market penetration; to behavioural — trial, inquiries, website visits; to attitudinal — brand awareness, brand consideration, intent to purchase. 

“The most interesting measures are those that are considered ‘leading indicators’ — the things that help predict marketplace success,” says Williams. “In the automotive sector, the most powerful leading indicator is usually test drives. For some food brands, it’s the number of recipes distributed. And for consumer electronics, it’s positive online reviews.”

The question to ask is: why bother to measure effectiveness at all, says Tim Broadbent, global effectiveness director at Ogilvy & Mather China. “There are two reasons: to find out how well we did last time (what did the campaign contribute to sales revenue and how much money did it make for the client) and how to do better next time — essentially, what has been learned about how consumers respond. 

“An effectiveness culture looks both backwards and forwards,” Broadbent says. 

Ogilvy has developed a strategic process, called ‘Fusion’, and a creative brief (the ‘Do brief’) with effectiveness very much in mind. For instance, the questions on the Do brief are along the same lines as those in effectiveness competitions. 

“Get the strategy right and good results usually follow,” adds Broadbent. “This is not to take anything away from the creative work. That’s the adored object. But creativity must be channelled into market relevance.”

A further challenge for creative agencies when it comes to measuring ROI is that clients are reluctant to share their data. It is no surprise that marketers almost always handle the ROI, as the insights are understandably much more valuable in this way than in the hands of an external supplier. 

“Clients do it, agencies don’t have access to data or the unbiased point of view required to do it,” says Unilever’s Puri.

Dheeraj Sinha, chief strategy officer for South and Southeast Asia at Grey Group, agrees that clients provide a lot of data that help track the ROI. But adds that it is critical that the agency sets up the problem/solution frame upfront so that “we know what we are supposed to measure”. 

Has all this led to more payment-by-results compensation? The short answer, says Ogilvy’s Broadbent, is no.  “We’d be more than happy to discuss it, but clients have a big problem. The compensation can’t be predicted so it can’t be budgeted for.”

BIG IDEAS Say it loud: award-winning creative work drives business growth

John Zeigler, chairman and CEO, DDB Group Asia-Pacific

As tempting as it is to look for simple, universal, silver-bullet ROI metrics, at DDB we take a far more nuanced view. We recognise there are certain universal truths that apply to most effective TVCs and we remain true to these where appropriate. We understand the salience of emotion drivers and how to access these creatively. 

It’s not because we want to win awards — it’s that award-winning work builds business growth for brands.

Most of our efforts to improve ROI are far more bespoke. In our experience, ‘effectiveness’ is highly client-, category-, campaign- and context-specific. There is no one-size-fits-all. 

Peter Field’s findings in a 2011 IPA report and his link between creativity and effectiveness confirm what many of us have always believed intuitively — that award-winning creative work improves share, sales, profit, and loyalty better than non-awarded work. This evidence demonstrates the power of creativity, but it’s still a well-kept secret — we should be shouting it from the agency rooftops.

Brands struggle to differentiate themselves with sometimes the only difference being brand reputation and the creativity that supports it. All brands should be pushing their agency to pursue creative, award-winning work, engaging in a process that makes this an ongoing passion for both client and agency. Creativity clearly is the client’s secret weapon in the war for growth.

Some clients do get it, particularly FMCG brands. They have their own philosophy about the drivers of growth and effectiveness in their categories. Our creative work is immersed in this paradigm and is aligned with their ROI metrics. This is when the client/agency relationship works best — when they use the agency to build business growth. I call it ‘Engaging creativity for growth’. 

At DDB, it’s about matching our best minds with the brand’s decision-makers to devise ways to look at business problems and drive growth, not just a reaction to a brief. 

Engagement is about discussing issues that keep clients up at night, not what TVC we should run this year. It’s about using the right tools to get creative ideas. 

CASE STUDY Huggies shows it cares


The diaper market in China is dominated by Pampers with a 35 per cent share and a ubiquitous presence across the country. Huggies, which entered the market later, only has a 9 per cent market share and a limited presence. Huggies tasked Ogilvy with increasing consideration and likability that could translate into greater sales.


There was no real product differentiator that Huggies could claim, so it decided to think differently and focus on serving the customer. 

In late 2013, it launched a campaign aimed at standing up for a customer cause: to help mothers find diaper-changing rooms in the city. Huggies created a location-based mobile app to help mothers locate the nearest diaper changing room. Viral videos were seeded online to highlight the problem, spark conversations and prompt downloads of the app. The campaign was not about advertising or communicating to mothers, but about demonstrating who cared more.


From October to December 2013, Huggies enjoyed growth six-times the category average and year-on-year sales value increased by more than 20 per cent and volume sales grew by 18 per cent. 

Huggies also gained 1.5 per cent market share directly from Pampers. More importantly, Ogilvy began looking at marketing initiatives differently. “Solving and not just selling, and standing for a cause, not just making a product claim, has opened our eyes to new possibilities,” it says.


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