Creative quality is CRITICAL for successful communications

Research shows that the most important element in successful ad campaigns is the quality of the creative – much more important than media spend.

There are several important elements in a communication campaign. The three big ones are the target, the media delivery and the content of the ad/message. It is the latter, the ad/message, which is critical to the success or failure of a campaign. People often think that it is the media (delivery, reach and frequency) that is most important, but this does not prove be the case in reality.

From years of evaluating both strong and weak advertising performance, we observe that about 75% of the success of a campaign is explained by the quality of the creative rather than the number of impressions or frequency of exposure. Ironically, the media is the most expensive part of a campaign budget – or represents a big time commitment for those trying to get free media exposure. Perhaps, this is why so many people focus more on that than on the creative development.

Campaigns with good ad quality will break through, be well branded, deliver a relevant message, engage emotions and move people to take action. When the creative content is weak, people do not pay more attention to it as the media spend accumulates. Quite the opposite – we pay less and less attention to ad exposures over time. This is consistent with how our brains are programmed to react to new stimuli in our environment, and then over time to desensitize to familiar stimuli.

These insights are especially relevant in the non-profit world, an environment with scarce resources for communications campaigns, and many competing campaigns/appeals. Using only the best content will go a long way to help get your money’s worth.

So, what are some of the keys to great creative? There is no formula, but there are patterns and characteristics that can be leveraged to increase the odds. Effective ads have:
1. Interest value – to raise curiosity/catch attention. Often something bold, novel or unexpected.
2. Relevant differentiation – to offer a meaningful reason to consider the brand/charity versus others: yes, you need a hook to compete.
3. Emotional engagement – creating feelings which donors wish to experience.  Some interesting new research has explored more deeply the role of personal, emotional connections in motivating donors.
4. Simplicity of execution – to help the brain file a memory and retrieve it later.
5. Branding properties – to ensure memory is well associated to your brand. Learn more about branding properties and building memories.

Readers should also appreciate that good advertising goes to work right away. Of course, there is a difference between campaigns getting recall versus having an actual impact. Building familiarity, improving attitudes or acquiring new donors may take time. But the advertising itself should be working and pulling the non-profit in the right direction immediately. Too often, we see advertisers wait for future success on the mistaken belief that new creative “wears in” and takes time to start working.


Focus your resources on developing great creative content so it can break through and move people to take action. Consider testing some of your campaign elements to ensure that only strong messages go to market. And do not expect future media exposures to help make weak creative perform better. Find out about new research to measure donor appeal for your organization – download the free DonorBuilder summary.

Sign up for more insights


John Hallward – author of “Gimme! The Human Nature of Successful Marketing”. John has spent over 30 years at Ipsos, leading the evaluation of advertising for many of the biggest global advertisers. From databases of thousands of researched campaigns, John has extracted some key insights on effective advertising and persuasion.