Ch 1. The Creative Dividend
For years, I have been intrigued with Sabermetrics. As you may know, Sabermetrics is the statistical analysis of baseball inspired by Bill James. This objective, scientific approach to judging talent was used by Oakland A’s GM, Billy Beane. Then, Beane’s success was immortalized in Michael Lewis’s 2003 book “Moneyball,” which was turned into a 2011 hit movie starring Brad Pitt.
The premise of the book and movie was: in order to compete more efficiently, sometimes you have to categorically challenge the way you view things. And while it was a book about baseball, it really could be about anything. Football. Investments. Life. Maybe even advertising.
I have often wondered what would happen if we applied this thinking to the advertising creative process. What would we do differently? How would we judge talent? Who would we want on our team? How could we work more efficiently? Who should go into the new business room? How can we remove emotion from something that is inherently all about emotion?
Now, I realize that merely asking these questions is asking for trouble. I will come under scorn for these. But, so did Billy Beane. And now every team in baseball follows his model – and is run by computer whiz kids with a new set of stats.
So, for the last 10 years I have counted, calculated and come up with some interesting revelations. But, just like Billy Beane, the first question I had to ask is, what does success look like? (In Moneyball, good baseball was about not making outs.) How can we judge good advertising in an objective way?
What is Good?
When I was a teenager and showed my book around, I learned a valuable lesson: everyone liked different things in the portfolio. There was no consensus. No definitive good or bad. So began my search for “What is good?”
It’s a tough question. And everyone in the business has a different answer or opinion. “You know it when you see it.” “It makes me jealous.” “It is memorable…motivating… disruptive…” Yes, but these are all subjective.
Everyone basically agrees that it has to breakthrough, create an emotion and have a compelling brand-building message. But how can we eliminate personal bias and quantify it? Here are some standard measurements:
- Number of awards? Creatives love advertising awards. Maybe that is why there are so many of them. But, let’s admit it, these awards are by and for the ad community. These self-congratulatory shows (with the possible exception of the Effies) have little to do with sales, or, for that matter, consumers.
- Test scores? Clients love test scores. And they are good for disaster checks and CYA. But, again being honest, we all know that testing exists in an unreal situation. It tests the familiar. It rewards the tried and true. It punishes the new and different.
- Great sales? Let’s face it, this is what we are in business to do. But I am not sure sales alone are an accurate measurement of great advertising. After all, so many other variables go into sales: packaging, placement, distribution, price, competition, and the product itself just to name a few. Historically, great ads have been known to put bad products out of business. Conversely, I have admittedly sold a lot of (great) product with mediocre advertising.
Here’s a new measurement that we use:
The Creative Dividend. This is an actual number that we can use to determine the bang you get for your creative buck. Face it, we all want the creative to breakthrough and have a life beyond its media buy. We want our ads to catch the attention of the public, get picked up in the media, and become part of the culture.
This is the exponential power of creative. That’s why clients pay agencies. (If they just wanted to tout their product benefits, they’d put their strategy on air.)
Here’s how to figure it out. Put a value amount on the “free media” the creative generates. Then, divide this number by the actual media buy and production budget. This will give you a number; it could be .01 or 10 or any number. We call this the Creative Dividend.
Most ads have a number between zero and .1. Any number over 1 is extremely good. A 5 is outstanding; great. Anything over 10 is a first ballot hall of famer. Think of the greatest ads of all time. Apple’s “1984.” Coke’s “Mean Joe.” Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef.” Nike’s “Bo Knows.” Absolute’s print campaign. All would have a Creative Dividend over 100.
Now, this formula isn’t perfect. It assumes that the messaging is positive and compelling. Getting the two numbers may take some help from your media department. And it discounts the effect of the PR team. But it does objectively begin to quantify how breakthrough your creative is.
Of course, most of the examples I’ve cited are TV-related and pre-Internet. And now TV is becoming less important in the communication mix. What’s more, mainstream media coverage is becoming less important in measuring what’s popular and talked about. So…how does the Creative Dividend hold up in the digital, social media environment?
Actually, the Creative Dividend is even more valuable and relevant in the world of viral. We have tweaked the formula just a little:
Views (clicks, likes, shared) divided by production = Creative Dividend.
This provides some tangible measurement to how successful your creative is working. This doesn’t reward using celebrities and huge production budgets – it rewards the simple human appeal of your message.