Advertising Creativity Matters

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  • Advertising Creativity Matters

    MICAEL DAHLENStockholm School of

    Economicsmicael,[email protected]

    SARA ROSENGRENStockholm School of

    [email protected],se

    FREDRIK TORNStockholm School of

    Economicsfredrik,[email protected]

    Could "wasteful" advertising creativity that does not add to the functionaiity of the

    advertisement (i.e., it neither enhances recaii and iiking of the advertising, norincreases comprehension and persuasiveness of the communicated message) beuseful? An exprimentai study shows that it can. By signaling greater effort on behaif

    of the advertiser and a greater ability of the brand, advertising creativity enhances

    both brand interest and perceived brand quaiity. The effects are mediated by

    consumer-perceived creativity, suggesting that consumers are important Judges of

    creativity. Bringing advertising creativity into new iight, the resuits provide impiications

    for the development, measurement, and positioning of creative advertising.

    INTRODUCTIONThere is no guarantee that creativity in an adver-tisement makes it more memorable or appealingto consumers (Kover, Goldberg, and James, 1995).In fact, research by, for example, Kover, James,and Sonner (1997) suggests that many creativeadvertising efforts may be wasted, in the sensethat they do not add to the functionality of theadvertisement (i.e., they neither enhance con-sumer recall and liking of the advertising, norincrease comprehension and persuasiveness of thecommunicated message). However, this article ar-gues that such wasteful advertising creativity mayhave other positive effects. Previous research onadvertising spending has found that, when by-passing functional aspects of high spending, forexample, that bigger advertisements increase at-tention or that repeated exposures facilitate com-prehension and breed liking, wasteful expenseshave positive effects on brand perceptions (e.g..Ambler and HoUier, 2004; Kirmani and Rao, 2000).The present research investigates whether or notthe same conclusion follows with respect to ad-vertising creativity.

    A common view is that creativity is a mission ofthe entire advertising industry, its raison d'tre(Koslow, Sasser, and Riordan, 2003). The fact that

    advertising agencies spend a great deal of timeand energy competing for creative awards, eventhough they are not sure that these efforts actuallyincrease the functionality of their work, suggeststhat creativity is perceived to be important in itsown right (e.g., Helgesen, 1994; Kover, James, andSonner, 1997). In a frequently cited study. Gross(1972) showed that wasteful advertising creativityin advertising agencies, in the form of an abun-dance of creative ideas, yield more effective ad-vertisements in the long run. This article takes thenotion of wasteful advertising creativity to thelevel of the individual advertisement to see whetheran abundance of creativity (that does not enhancefunctionality) in a single advertisement yields pos-itive effects.

    Building on the research on marketing signals,we suggest it does. Studies show that the veryemployment of various marketing elements, suchas warranties (long-lasting) or price (correlateswith quality), sends signals about the brand thatguide consumer evaluations and choice (e.g., Kir-mani and Rao, 2000). Advertising expense hasbeen found to be a signal that consumers interpretas the marketers' efforts due to their belief in thebrand (Kirmani, 1990; Kirmani and Wright, 1989)or as proof of the brand's superiority or "brand

    3 9 2 JDBOIIL OF (IDERTISinG BESEflRCH September 2 0 0 8 DOI: 10.2501/S002184990808046X


    fitness" (Amhler and Hollier, 2004): Thegreater the expense, the more confidentthe marketer and the more fit the brand.Categorizing advertising creativity as amarketing signal, we expect that greatercreativity signals more effort (as creativeadvertising is harder to produce than "no-frills" advertising) and greater fitness (asthe sender must have the knowledge re-sources to take the extra communicativeleap and communicate in a nontraditionalmarmer) and thus produces more favor-able brand perceptions.

    By investigating the signaling effects ofadvertising creativity on brand percep-tions, we bypass the functional aspectsthat have previously been in focus in cre-ativity research. Previous research focuseson intermediate effects such as advertis-ing recall, liking, and comprehension (e.g.,Kover, James, and Sonner, 1997; Stone,Besser, and Lewis, 2000; Till and Baack,2005), or different facets of creativity, suchas originality, meaningfulness, and emo-tions (e.g., Ang and Low, 2000; Kover,Goldberg, and James, 1995; White andSmith, 2001). As advertising (and creativ-ity) can take many shapes and forms, it isnot very surprising that most authors seemto agree that the research on advertisingcreativity to date is troubled by contradic-tory and inconclusive findings (e.g., El-Murad and West, 2004; Koslow, Sasser,and Riordan, 2003: Stone, Besser, andLewis, 2000). For instance, some (award-winning, which is often the criterion inthese studies) creative advertising may bevery original and yield high recall, butlow liking, whereas other advertising couldproduce strong emotions and liking, butbe harder to recall. Avoiding such obsta-cles may be achievable by focusing oncreativity as a signal in itself, rather thanits facets and intermediate effects.

    The present study includes a number ofelements that are novel to advertising cre-ativity research. First, rather than using

    real advertisements as representatives ofmore versus less creative advertising, thestudy manipulates advertising creativityin the same manner as Ambler and Hol-lier (2004) manipulate advertising ex-pense. Thus, we are able to compareadvertising for the same brands with thesame messages and control for the func-tionality of the tested advertisements. Mostresearch to date has employed real adver-tisements, which makes it harder to dis-cern the effects of the creativity in itself,as it also becomes a matter of differentbrands with different messages. Second,our manipulation does not produce cre-ative advertising that is "outstanding,"but rather moderately creative. As notedby Haberland and Dacin (1992), the focuson awards creates a dichotomous view ofadvertising as creative yes/no. It is morelikely that advertising varies in its degreeof creativity. Not all advertisements winprizes for creativity, but that does notmean that those advertisements are notcreative. Third, in addition to manipu-lating advertising creativity, we alsomeasure consumer-perceived creativity.Previous research has usually kept thedegree of creativity "hidden" from con-sumers, utilizing awards and expert judg-ments as assessments of creativity. Whereasadvertising effects materialize to a consid-erable degree without consumer aware-ness (e.g.. Heath and Nairn, 2005), thepresent study tests the notion that con-sumer explicit thoughts about advertisingcreativity matter.

    ADVERTISING CREATIVITY AS AMARKETING SIGNALMost markets are flooded with productsfor consumers to choose between. As con-sumers are unable to sample all productsthat are available to them, or even assessthe quality of all the products they haveactually consumed, they rely on market-ing signals (Kirmani and Rao, 2000). Ad-

    vertising expense is the marketing signalthat has gained most attention in adver-tising research. According to Kirmani andWright (1989), advertising expense is anindicator of marketing effort: The moremoney spent on advertising, the greaterthe effortmeaning that the advertisermust really believe in the product. Spend-ing a great deal of money on advertisingis a more powerful signal to consumersabout the quality of the product than thecontent of the advertising, as the adver-tiser "put their money where their mouthis." More money means greater risk, andthus consumers feel safe that the adver-tiser will deliver on her promise (Kir-mani, 1997).

    In tests of advertising expense, Kirmani(1990,1997) manipulates advertising sizes,colors, endorsers, and repetition and findsthat they may all increase perceived mar-keting effort. Interestingly, Kirmani (1990)notes that it is possible that perceivedadvertising quality ("includes the care andcreativity used to design the ad") couldalso have an effect on perceptions of mar-keting effort. However, Kirmani (1990) doesnot manipulate advertising quality (andmore specifically, advertising creativity).Such a manipulation would result in per-ceptions of greater marketing effort.

    Coming up with a creative concept ismore demanding for the advertiser thansimply applying a standard solution basedone's own or others' previous efforts. Con-sumers are "advertising literate" enoughtoday to infer that creative advertising isprobably the result of a development pro-cess that is both longer and more costly(they may even refer this to the employ-ment of a "fancy advertising agency").

    HI: Advertising creativity increasesperceived marketing effort.

    Ambler and Hollier (2004) suggest thatadvertising expense may not only serve



    An extra degree of creativity may send signais about

    tiie advertiser tiiat rub off on consumer perceptions of

    tiie brand.

    as a signal of effort, but also as a moredirect signal of "brand fitness." Referringto the biological theory of handicapping,they argue that advertising expense maybe a signal of wealtharguably, the ad-vertiser can afford such wastefully expen-sive advertising. The wealth, in tum, couldbe interpreted as proof of previous suc-cess due to the brand's great ability toserve the market. Extending the reason-ing to advertising creativity, wasteful cre-ativity (i.e., the surplus creativity that doesnot add to the fu