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CM Summit: Return on Creativity in Adland

This past week saw the Conversational Marketing (CM) Summit in New York, an event organized by Federated Media (which sells advertising on ReadWriteWeb). It was a stimulating event because of the good mix of all of the participants in the advertising eco-system (publishers and media, advertisers and marketers, advertising agencies, and advertising technology startups). The sessions included many case studies of large brands that use social media to engage customers in different ways, as well as new technology from startups. My one overriding impression was that creativity, in all its forms, is back. There was a real sense of a return on creativity.

Return on Creativity

When a medium has been established for a long time, its ads can become a bit blah! As a Brit who moved to the US, I used to bemoan that TV ads in America were so boring compared to the ones in the UK. Part of the problem was that you could not measure the ROI of creativity. The guys who wrote the big checks could say, “Winning awards, the plaudits of your peers, and a lot of laughs is all very well, but do they drive sales?” The answer, of course, was, “Who the hell knows?”

We have seen the same thing in the Google CPC era, when the whole game was about measurement and analytics. How creative can you get with a text ad?

But when you need to entice users in social media, creativity is so critical. As we heard stories from brands such as Gillette (P&G), American Express, GE, Blackberry, and Intel, a few common themes emerged:

  1. Authenticity. You cannot fake it in social media. You will get flamed and exposed, and the campaign will become counter-productive.
  2. Risk-taking. You have to take a chance on a campaign. The old tried and true corporate-approved stuff will just bomb.
  3. Strategy. You have to have a clear strategy. What problem are you solving, and what big lever are you using to hit that goal?

The Gillette India Story

There were so many great stories, but this one resonated the most. Imagine selling razor blades in a country with a billion plus people and where your blades cost ten times those of the local competition. Gillette’s sales had been flat for a decade. After this one particular campaign, its sales grew by 40%. That is massive. The thing to note is that it spent a lot of money on traditional media but used that to spark a debate (about the value of shaving for your sex appeal and career prospects) that was amplified in social media.

Feeling Like the Web 1.0 of 1995

Big money is starting to move into social media. There is recognition that the old ways of selling online — what some people are calling “tradigital” — is not working as well anymore. But it is still very experimental. The numbers don’t reflect it yet. But many smart and creative people are working out new ways to engage consumers. Some of the resulting campaigns will be dismal, embarrassing failures: this is a high-risk game. But doing nothing would be worse and would leave room for smart competitors to steal market share.

How to Play This If You Are a Web Tech Venture

The overriding message to people who sell tech solutions or websites to advertisers and marketers was that there is no silver bullet. This is the era of the “mashup campaign,” using a lot of tools and informed by an overarching strategy. So, if you sell one of those tools, make sure you play nicely in the eco-system. Be a good mixer: open APIs and the rest of it.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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