The advertising efficiency trap and how to avoid it

by Nigel Hollis | February 06, 2019

In a recent article on Campaign Live Rory Sutherland suggests that we all adopt “the efficiency bubble” to describe the way media logistics, not creativity, have come to dominate the conversation about advertising. But our fixation on efficiency is not just a bubble, it is a trap.

Given that Sutherland’s article’s focus on efficiency I was amused by the statement that precedes it, “How long? 5-7 minutes.” This statement addresses people’s desire to use time efficiently, but it tells us little about whether that time will be well spent. A quick read might be efficient but a compelling, longer read might be more effective if it shifts your understanding of the topic (of course, ideally you would have both). But it is easy to measure how long it takes to read an article, far more difficult to predict whether it will change people’s understanding.

I believe the prevalence of media data is why the focus in marketing has shifted from creative to media delivery. There is a lot of data – much of it in the form of convenience metrics or syndicated data – that can help make media delivery more efficient but there is far less to guide the development of compelling content.

As Sutherland notes, nobody doubts the power of creativity, but compared to making a well-informed decision about media delivery investing in creative development feels uncertain. But therein lies the power of creative. Lack of clarity about the outcome creates the opportunity for competitive advantage because no one else has the same insight, the same idea or the same executions that you do.

As Sutherland puts it,

“…people somehow prefer to be unambiguously and efficiently wrong than messily right.”

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Successful advertising must first be effective, then it can be made more efficient. Being effective demands using data as a start point to identify a successful strategy not an end point. Data will give you the map of what people do, think and feel today, but, as a marketer, you need to identify how you can change that playing field to help your brand make more money. If you allow data to box you in, define the boundaries within which to play, then you will never achieve significant gains, only incremental ones.

Creating significant brand growth through advertising requires both imagination and implementation. It requires the marketer to extrapolate from how things are today and imagine how they might be, figure out how to change the status quo and then implement their campaign effectively. Human insight (not data) can help support and guide that process but without a clear goal and compelling content any media investment will likely be wasted.

So how do you avoid the efficiency trap? Do not let data box you in, instead, use it to spark your imagination. But what do you think? Is efficiency a trap? Please share your thoughts. 

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