Creative Quality Has Biggest Impact on Ad Effectiveness, but Media’s Influence is Growing

October 18, 2017

Creative quality remains the single most influential factor driving in-store sales lift from advertising campaigns, declares Nielsen and Nielsen Catalina Solutions (NCS) in a new report [pdf]. The study is based on two meta-studies, including an analysis of almost 500 CPG campaigns that ran in 2016 and Q1 2017 across major media platforms.

That most recent analysis indicates that 49% of a brand’s sales lift from advertising is due to the creative, which refers primarily to the quality and the messaging (47%) but also to the context in which the ad is placed (2%).

Components related to media buying and planning, meanwhile, contribute to 36% of sales lift from advertising. These are broken down as follows:

  • Reach: 22% contribution to sales lift;
  • Targeting: 9% contribution; and
  • Recency: 5% contribution.

The remaining 15% contribution to sales lift comes from brand factors such as dollar sales, price, and brand penetration.

Media’s Influence Grows

The report compares the latest findings from the 2006 Apollo Project, which was a similar study using a single-source database.

At that time, the creative quality and messaging accounted for fully 65% of a brand’s sales lift from advertising, compared to 49% now.

Media’s influence a decade or so ago was limited to just 15% of sales lift – a figure that has more than doubled now to 36%. The report’s authors attribute this in part to media buying and planning becoming more data-driven, as well as creative quality achieving more of a consistency.

That’s especially the case in TV campaigns (linear and addressable), according to the study, where media contributes 50% of sales lift from advertising, compared to 37% from the creative. As TV creative has climbed to a high level of consistency, the media has become more important in determining the performance of the advertising.

That’s not yet the case for digital campaigns (video, display and mobile), where the quality of the creative employed varies much more widely than for TV campaigns. As a result, the quality of the creative accounts for an outsized 56% of sales lift from advertising from digital campaigns, whereas the media is of lesser influence (30%).

The Stronger the Creative, the Greater Its Impact

Although TV creative has reached a consistently strong level, creative is still a real differentiator. In analyzing different levels of creative, the study shows that when the creative is strong, sales lift is higher and the creative has a much higher contribution to performance.

This is more so the case for digital campaigns, but is also true for TV campaigns. In both cases, weak creative is linked to small incremental sales which are more the result of the media than the creative.

Other Intriguing Findings

The report also reveals a couple of intriguing – and surprising – findings.

1. TV Still Dominates Cross-Media Reach. In examining 863 recent cross-media campaigns across verticals, the study found that very few digital campaigns match TV’s reach. On average, the TV portion of a typical campaign was 58% of the target, compared to just 2% for the digital part. Moreover, digital only extends TV’s reach in the cases where TV already has high reach. This appears to be a qualification of sorts to earlier studies that have suggested that digital always adds incremental reach to TV.

2. TV Does Better With On-Buyer Targeting? In a surprising result, the use of purchase-based segmentation to examine campaigns found that 80% of TV campaigns were considered “On-Buyer Target” compared to just 31% of digital campaigns. This is unexpected, as TV is perceived to be a reach vehicle, with targeting being digital’s strength. As it turns out, TV’s high marks in this regard may be a function of the vertical being advertised: heavy TV viewers typically are larger families who are heavy CPG buyers, per the report. By comparison, the study found that digital advertisers are not selecting buyer targets, potentially doing so intentionally in an effort to grow brands by looking outside target personas. Moreover, many may be relying on overly-simplistic demographic targets which may not be good determinants of buyer personas.

The full report – which contains many more results and recommendations as well as a complete explanation of methodology – can be accessed here [pdf].


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