A couple of years ago, I watched Man on Wire. The captivating documentary tells the story of Phillipe Petit’s historic high-wire routine performed between New York City’s World Trade Center’s twin towers in 1974, dubbed as the most daring balancing act of the 20th century. This is how I see creative effectiveness as we enter the third decade of the 21st century. I’ll tell you the story of why and how.  

The Shift From “Why” To “Why Not” 

As soon as Simon Sinek explained his golden circle in 2009, everything we knew changed. The “Why” dominated our industry and everyone’s obsession to “Start with Why” gave birth to the purpose movement. That was the time that gave us timeless brand platforms in the likes of Always: Like A Girl, P&G: Thank You Mom, Dove: Real Beauty Sketches and Chipotle: Back to the Start. That is, until the world’s most revered CMO, Burger King’s Fernando Machado showed up. Fast forward a decade and Machado’s marketeering bravado made him the industry’s most celebrated figure collecting almost every single individual appreciation award from Adweek, Digiday and Cannes among many others. His commendable “Why Not” approach to advertising ideas made him the example to follow among his peers. And rightly so. Burger King’s campaigns are nothing short of creative genius. I mean check the list out; The McWhopper Proposal, Never Trust a Clown, Burn that Ad, the most recent Whopper Secret and the most notorious of them all, The Whopper Detour

Gave Rise To “Machado-ism” 

Creative genius… but effective? Brand Consultant and former Marketing Professor Mark Ritson certainly doesn’t think so. He argues that while Burger King is flashy, McDonald’s is actually effective, drawing a differentiation between engaging  famously effective marketing and marketing that is effectively famous. A closer look at that list of genius Burger King campaigns reveals one thing in common; they’re all one-off stunts. Stunts that are most probably geared towards award shows with those same marketing peers as the main target audience. Ritson maintains that this approach to Marketing is simply too fragmented with many separate activities happening and solely focused on advertising without any focus on the core product/service or other brand  tenets. And this is an approach we’re seeing being extended to Burger King’s sister brand Popeyes today. The growing popularity of such work, perpetuated mainly by award shows, coupled with the need for sales bursts and prompted by the rise in digital spend, drove short-term thinking, which in turn translated into a crisis in creative effectiveness. And the proof is in the IPA’s latest effectiveness report pudding.

And The Collapse Of Creative Effectiveness 

The report indicated that creatively awarded campaigns are now less effective than they have ever been in the entire 24-year run of data from the advertising body’s banks of case studies and research. And the seismic shift from Sinek’s ‘Why’ to Machado’s ‘Why Not’ did not go unnoticed. Case in point – the result of the greater emphasis on short-termism has been that traditional brand-building campaigns are down from 85% of all advertising in 2002 to 62% in 2018. The report notes a dramatic rise in awarded short-term campaigns, from an average of 10% surveyed in 2002 to 25% in 2018. In fact, almost 80% of the Grand Prix of this year’s winners at the Cannes Festival of Creativity were short-term activation and stunt ideas, including the Titanium, the most coveted award, won by none other than Burger King’s Whopper Detour. The report claimed that these short-term creatively awarded campaigns are around 50% less effective than long-term awarded campaigns. Further damning awards, it added that short-term creatively awarded case studies turn out to be almost 25% less effective than non-awarded campaigns. So, where do we go from here?

It Should Be Less Of An Oxymoron, And More Of A Tautology 

Traditionally, there’s always been two camps. One focused on creativity (flashy brand executions) and another focused on effectiveness (quantitative media metrics). The former distanced themselves from the core business while the latter claimed exclusive responsibility over it. And they never saw eye to eye. Ironically though, although missing the mark in its execution, Burger King was fundamentally right in their core belief that creativity makes marketing more effective. And we know that today for a fact. According to Nielsen, 50 – 70% of a campaign’s ROI depends on the creative. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum it’s the technology available to us today that allows the creative to work better through data-driven personalization at scale. Point is, there is no two camps. And one without the other is destined to fail. The future of Creative Effectiveness lies not in seeing its two expressions as opposites, but in seeing them as synonyms that make the whole term greater than the sum of its parts. How, you ask?

There’s A Silver Lining, Not A Silver Bullet 

Peter Drucker, aka the Father of Management Theory, once famously said: “Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.” Our era today remains dominated by the former, namely due to the meteoric rise in new media over the past decade. That said, we are expected to gradually shift towards the latter as we enter the new decade. But there’s no magic formula to it. As the lines continue to blurr, it will require even more cross-functional collaboration and breaking down of silos. But more importantly, breaking down the mentality behind these silos to cement the mindset that everyone, and I mean everyone, contributes to the company’s bottom line. And it will only come with more of the education, knowledge-sharing and diverse skill sets required to simultaneously manage short-term targets vs. long-term strategy, online vs. offline, one-off promotional campaigns vs. ongoing brand-building and top funnel (ToFu) strategies vs. bottom funnel (BoFu) strategies along with the more complicated middle funnel (MoFu) without prioritizing one over the other.

This will be a daily intricate balancing act nothing short of Phillipe Petit’s 1974 highwire walk between the Twin Towers. 2020 will be the dawn of the Man (and hopefully more women) on Wire marketer.