Don’t Let Short-Term Thinking Kill Creativity

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In their most recent report on advertising creativity and effectiveness, the IPA and author Peter Field reach the startling conclusion that both creativity and effectiveness are under threat. And who are the culprits? They believe that short-term thinking – especially a focus on driving rapid sales – combined with the recent global financial crisis, are responsible for killing creativity in advertising.

Their findings are clear and shocking. The impact of creativity on efficiency has halved over the past few years, in a business environment where short-term thinking and a desire for instant results are the norm. The consequence of this focus on instantaneousness is that an increasing majority of advertising is less creative and has less long-term impact. Everything is focused on sales to the detriment of long-term brand building.

Short-term thinking seems to have become the curse of our age, but its effects are pernicious and the slow creep to increasingly shorter time horizons and measurements are often difficult to see in the midst of our lives. They reach far beyond advertising and into a more general and pervasive atmosphere, where everyone wants immediate results and there is no patience for the value of longer-term thinking.

On the flip side, Peter Field and the IPA found a strong decline in brand fame effects (building long-term emotional associations between brands and people). The combined impact of focus on short-term and lack of brand building is that advertising is becoming less effective. Combined with reduced investment in advertising and very few long-term campaigns, the efficiency of advertising has halved. If the trend continues in terms of budgets and creativity, many campaigns will eventually have no impact on long-term brand growth, and in some cases may even lead to negative growth.

Creativity needs time and nurturing to maximise the value of its return. Creativity is all about building connections between ideas; this first of all needs a rich resource of ideas as well as time for our brains to reflect on those resources and find new patterns among them. For many people it can be difficult to find that time in today’s fast-moving business environment.

We need to find that time if we want to move beyond a world of ever- smaller innovation increments and avoid chasing our own tails. That means taking the time to avoid digital distractions and giving our brains enough quality time to think about and explore ideas.

Advertisers and marketers can often become too easily distracted. One of the conclusions of the IPA report was that even when advertisers develop a strong creative idea they often don’t make the most of it. Great ideas need to be exploited for as long as possible, maximising their impact and using them to build brand fame.

The report’s authors also conclude that creativity should never be dontevaluated over shorter time frames (less than six months), as to do so understates and undervalues creativity, often discouraging the longer-term exploitation of creative value.

Overall, the consequence of short-term thinking in advertising – and more generally in business – undermines long-term growth. By the very act of focusing on the immediate (and measurable) effects of an advert (or any commercial activity) we lose sight of its greater value and potentially greater long-term impact.

Of course the same challenges face market research, where the drive for quicker, cheaper and faster solutions is something that we all confront. Speed of execution is always a good thing, but that speed must be supported by great thinking, validated frameworks and a mind-set that integrates the bigger picture into even the smallest and fastest piece of research.

In his novel Slowness, Czech writer Milan Kundera notes, “The degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory. The degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting”. If we want great experiences and want our customers to have great experiences with our brand, let’s make time to slow down once in a while, enjoy the moment and above all be creative.

What brands decide to do with their advertising is ultimately up to them, but the evidence is clear and unambiguous. However, let’s not let the same process happen to our own creative minds. As Austrian satirist Karl Kraus wrote, “What good is speed if the brain has oozed out on the way?”