For decades, marketers and creative directors treated “creative quality” as “you know it when you see it.”
Mounting evidence proves creative is the single biggest influencer of advertising effectiveness. Creative quality is the most important factor for driving sales, while Data2Decisions pinpointed it as the largest lever marketers can pull for ad profitability. CreativeX research has statistically linked higher creative quality with increased media efficiency and lower CPMs.
Creative is the last mile in marketing effectiveness. But the industry is struggling to push it across the finish line. Why? Surveys have exposed a disconnect between what marketers believe drives ad profitability and what actually has the most significant impact.
This guide will explain what creative quality means to the future of advertising and how it’s the foundation for marketers taking the first step on their creative excellence journey. First, a look at why this is such an essential undertaking:
Media consumers are enjoying an unprecedented array of consumption options, from tried and tested TVC through to TikTok. This proliferation creates an ever-expanding challenge for the advertising industry. The unbundling of advertising has produced a variety of effects that are impacting ad effectiveness, including:
Today’s marketers cannot afford to rely solely on media metrics to measure and improve creative effectiveness, particularly with deprecated cookies (which limit targeting attribution) and rising media fragmentation expected to increase in the next 12 months. The industry needs a sound methodology for learning what works and overcoming a pervasive lack of reality, alignment, and ability to share learnings at scale.
The Creative Effectiveness Ladder, devised by Cannes Lions and WARC, represents a valuable first step toward bringing structure and shared language to creative effectiveness. Technology can help foster the next step. For all the complications it has introduced, it also offers robust solutions.
For over half a century, brands have measured their creative campaigns subjectively, occasionally, and in isolation.
The modern economic climate contributes to a landscape where marketers commonly focus on evaluating short-term impact and making reactive decisions that lead to rampant measurement bias, which can be seen in the undervaluation of creative quality as a driver of advertising profitability in contrast to the far more measurable targeting. This has resulted in what Peter Field of the IPA describes as a crisis in creative effectiveness.
The solution to this crisis lies in measuring creative quality objectively, in real-time, and at scale. Marketers need a systematic way to understand, with confidence, the historically ambiguous elements of effectiveness for image and video content. Creative data platforms are opening new frontiers in this regard. Leading global brands are spearheading the charge and seeing undeniable results.
Pivoting away from a myopic focus on campaign optimization, these organizations are implementing long-term, indefinite creative improvements designed to improve brand health and create sustained sales success.
An intentional and measurable approach to Creative Quality is proving to be the real solution to a pervasive crisis in creative effectiveness.
Writing for Warc’s ‘Anatomy of Effectiveness’ Anastasia Leng situated creative quality within an urgent industry-wide problem: an inability to objectively measure excellent or high-quality creative executions.
“Creative content has been notoriously difficult to understand in a systematic and objective way in the absence of an industry-wide metric that can serve as a proxy for creative excellence. If brands aren’t measuring their creative in a scalable and objective way, how can they know what steps they can take to enhance and make it work harder for them?”
Marketers are beginning to measure and track the adoption of creative best practices in their content through using data that is generated at scale from the asset itself. It is a primary and essential step in the journey to creative excellence, providing a dependable framework for maximizing impact and ROI on advertising investments.
“The most important thing is nailing the basics and making sure all brands across all our markets are using those best practices – it would be silly not to maximize those dollars,” said Eric Gregoire.
“If brands aren’t measuring the quality of their creative in a scalable and objective way, how can they know what steps they can take to enhance and improve it?” - CreativeX CEO Anastasia Leng
Marketers at leading global companies like Unilever, Mars, and Renault are building teams to define aggregated and universal best practices for their creative production, unique to their brands. While these exist under different names, such as Unilever’s ‘Digital Mandatories,’ Mars’ ‘Digital Basics,’ or Nestlé’s ‘hygiene factors,’ all of these guidelines serve the same purpose: to coordinate thousands of marketers across agencies, internal teams, and markets to produce content that delivers on its marketing goals – all enabled through the power of creative data.
Even with different organizations devising their own specific terminologies and methods, the industry still needs a universal, aggregated metric that marketers can apply to hold themselves accountable and combat the erosion of creative quality.
Writing about this, Anastasia Leng (CreativeX CEO) says, “hundreds of studies from millions of impressions have demonstrated that there are indeed some basic creative first principles (like the need to brand an asset) that have repeatedly been proven to move the needle on both sales and brand growth in a statistically meaningful way, and adoption of these best practices, as measured by CQS, are statistically correlated with a decrease in CPM and an increase in brand recall and ROAS.”
The Creative Quality Score (CQS) allows marketers to combat the erosion of creative quality and deliver meaningful creative effectiveness and efficiency gains.
Marketers use this metric to objectively measure creative quality through the adoption of an organization’s creative best practices. The calculation is relatively straightforward:
In short, CQS measures adherence to statistically validated and proven best practices for image and video content. Using this lens, brands can ensure that every single piece of content produced follows defined guidelines for success.
With this single creative metric to track the efficiency and effectiveness of media spend across various channels and objectives, brands can make it easier for all of their marketers and agency partners to tie their creative decisions to business impact. While simple in concept, measuring and tracking CQS in real-time and at scale requires a creative data platform.
Taking this step toward creative maturity can make a massive difference. One study of more than 1 million ads uncovered three critical correlations between CQS and results:
Extensive aggregated studies and individual use cases corroborate this wide-ranging impact. Nearly half the world’s largest advertisers s are using the Creative Quality Score as a guiding light to greater efficiency, effectiveness, and innovation - and this is even being reported on at board level.
For example, Nestlé has successfully used CQS as an efficiency metric, with their data showing that higher scores are associated with a 66% higher Return on Ad Spend (ROAS). Meanwhile, Heineken positions it as more of an effectiveness metric, calculating a 50% brand uplift after adoption.
“We can proudly share that basically, the four key drivers as it's been qualified within the platform … since the launch and implementation of CreativeX, it basically went up 50 percent,” said Bram Reukers, Global Smart Creative Lead at Heineken. “Knowing that these four drivers also are key drivers for business impact, I would almost leave it to the audience to kind of calculate what that means for their business.”
Finally, CQS can be viewed as a behavioral metric, reinforcing the rationale behind a marketing team’s tireless work. With this objective scoring system in place, it becomes easy to see how many people produce creative work that demonstrably hits the mark for quality and adheres to meaningful guidelines.
Speaking to this, Aude Gandon says, “There can be a tendency to believe that we are putting new measurements and new KPI to track who is doing well or who is not doing well. That's not what we're trying to do. We're just trying to empower the teams to really know what is having an effect and an impact on the quality and the power of the message and also driving a better ROI on the media investment.”
While every approach will be unique to the specific brand using it, marketers can follow an overarching, step-by-step process to establish a culture of creative excellence.
Generally speaking, these five creative best practices tend to apply across channels, industries, and teams:
However, these creative principles can conflict with each other, depending on the platform and how people consume content on it. For example, YouTube tells advertisers to build for sound-on, while Meta recommends advertisers build for sound-off (and delight with sound-on).
For these best practices to take hold, they must remain centrally visible and continually monitored. Remember: any ad spend channeled into creative that doesn’t adhere to these best practices runs the risk of being wasted or misused.
Mondelēz turned to CreativeX as a platform for centralizing and automating adherence to its best practices at scale.
“Our objective in working with CreativeX was really to establish those best practices globally across all of our brands and all of our markets,” said Laetitia Lacour, Global Digital Senior Manager. “Now we have all guidelines from the different platforms aggregated in one place.”
When the marketing team has clear, practical guidelines to follow, they can experiment and innovate within them while still tethering the work to a data-driven formula for effectiveness.
This evolution – from following rarely-enforced brand guidelines to a statistically significant set of creative best practices – is instrumental in the journey to Creative Excellence. The examples above of Heineken moving from PowerPoint slides to measuring effectiveness comprehensively in real-time, and Nestlé’s Indonesia team aligning around unified KPIs, illustrate how this plays out in practice.
“The beauty of CreativeX and this step is that this step can be completed within less than 24 hours. So it's a minimal impact on a creative timeline,” according to Reukers.
“I genuinely believe that [our teams] are more efficient in developing the creative because they know what they need to look at,” said Gandon. “They know what measures are going to make an impact, and the creative partners do as well. So there won't be a question, in five meetings, ‘should we have branding first?’ Yes, we will have branding first because we know it works. So there's also a huge amount of time being gained.”
Anyone who works at a large, decentralized organization knows that this type of sweeping behavioral change can be challenging to instill and sustain. This system will help solidify the organizational commitment by driving transparency, communication, and a continual focus on the data, evidence, and outcomes.
“We had this nice PowerPoint slide that everybody could print back in the day and put next to their desk,” said Reukers, “but there's no way to really measure and drive accountability at scale.”
Or at least, there wasn’t. Now that’s changed.
“Being able to discuss where we stand based on hard facts helped us and actually helped our markets and our marketers to really monitor if – within the creative journey, from agency to Heineken to consumer – we implement those basics,” said Reukers.
Evaluating content for adherence to creative excellence criteria is vital before putting it out into the wild. The right solution will integrate directly with digital asset management (DAM) platforms to make this process seamless and automatic.
In today’s environment, everything changes fast, so measuring in-flight and optimizing on the fly is critical. Marketers can accomplish this by tracking real-time and historical adoption of their creative best practices and assessing how it impacts their media efficiency and content effectiveness.
The CreativeX platform specializes in both areas, with APIs that sync powerful creative data with an organization’s first- and third-party data to enrich media mix modeling, sales enablement, brand lift modeling, and more.
"Going from opinions to fact-based decision making is the key [thing] that CreativeX helped us achieve,” said Bosch of Heineken.
Or, in other words, going from “you know it when you see it,” to “we know it before we make it.”
“CreativeX is bringing science to creative measurement.” - Laetitia Lacour, Global Digital Senior Manager, Mondelēz International
The CreativeX report analyzing insights from 1 million ads, $1 billion ad spend, and 1 trillion ad impressions can serve as an informative guide to implementing these principles. The report includes a detailed analysis of real-world examples and data, culminating in a series of next steps underpinning an implementation plan.
In addition to the above report, find more in-depth explorations of large global brands taking the successful journey toward a culture of Creative Quality with CreativeX in the stories below.
If you’re ready to start your journey, get in touch with us and join the creative excellence movement.