How to leverage advertising creativity to improve market performance

By our News Team | 2022

Canadian researchers say they’ve discovered how marketers can leverage strategic thinking to create advertising that increases sales.

Researchers from Brock University and McGill University in Canada have published a new paper in the academic Journal of Marketing that shows how marketers can leverage strategic thinking to create advertising that increases sales and ultimately ‘moves the needle’ in changing customer perceptions. 

The study is authored by Filippo Dall’Olio, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Brock, and Demetrios Vakratsas, an Associate Professor of Marketing at McGill.

In September 2021, fast-food company Burger King received an Effie Award, a prestigious prize that recognises the most effective advertising campaigns. Yet, while the campaign was airing, Burger King’s sales declined.

Advertising Creativity

Image by Steven London from Pixabay

Many critics have asked how such a scenario is consistent with the award. Aren’t sales the yardstick by which marketing effectiveness is ultimately measured?

To understand how marketers can leverage creative ads to increase marketplace performance, the researchers developed an integrative framework that captures the fundamental aspects of creative strategy: content and execution. 

The framework, called Advertising Creative Strategy (or ACS), focuses on the fundamental aspects of creative advertising, rather than being concerned with its individual tactical decisions. It distinguishes between the function of the advertisement (“what” is said in the ad, or its content) and its form (“how” it is said, or its execution). 

According to Dall’Olio: “ACS is general enough to provide a comprehensive evaluation of creative strategies. At the same time, it limits its complexity to a manageable number of ‘moving parts.’ This simplifies both its application and the [ability to get] valuable insights.”  

ACS works on a three-dimensional representation indicating the extent to which an advertisement includes experiential, affective and cognitive content (EAC representation). Experiential content provides procedural information on how product attributes could (or should) be combined to deliver performance. 

Marketers want to reinforce or create behaviours

It typically aims to reinforce current behaviours or create new ones. Affective content includes claims that require subjective evaluation and individual interpretation. Cognitive content is factual and includes claims about verifiable product features, attributes and benefits.  

For the evaluation of form, the professors distinguish between executional elements and creative templates. 

Executional elements represent the decisions about the way content is presented. Five broad categories are covered: comparative, endorsement, entertainment, imagery/visual and mnemonic devices. 

The comparative category reflects the use of comparison information related to competitors. The endorsement category includes elements related to the use of a source (celebrity, expert, regular consumer) to promote the advertised benefits. The entertainment category consolidates elements such as the use of drama, storytelling, clever plot devices, humour, and comedy. Similarly, the imagery/visual category consolidates all visual and graphical elements.

Mnemonic devices, which is the final category, consists of elements that help consumers’ immediate mental association with the ad or the brand. 

The framework’s structure can measure the focus of an ad, meaning the extent to which an ad emphasises one specific content dimension. Similarly, it can also capture the degree of variation of both content and executional elements over time. 

This study analyses 2 251 creatives from 91 consumer packaged goods brands across a period of four years and finds that function is the primary driver of marketplace performance, especially when focused on one individual content dimension.

“Experiential content produces the highest performance increase, followed by cognitive and affective content,” Vakratsas explains.

“Execution mostly plays a supporting role bolstering the effect of function. Marketers can maximally leverage the synergy between pairing content with congruent executional elements. We also find that advertisers can achieve ‘creative pulsing’ by varying the composition of their advertising creative strategy over time.” 

The American Marketing Association (AMA), which publishes the Journal of Marketing, says this study suggests that strategic thinking in advertising pays off. 

Marketers should leverage the synergies between content and execution by focusing content on one specific dimension, matching it with consistent executional elements and varying the composition of the creative over time.

Read the full research here.

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