Sept 2019 (Vol. 59, Issue 3): NEUROMARKETING
Can Media Neutrality Limit Creative Potential? How Advertising’s Use of Ideation Templates Fares across Media
Media neutrality–the process of creating ad templates for the purpose of execution across different media channels– is desirable in terms of strategy, but does it limit creativity? Empirical research on media neutrality and its influence on creativity so far is limited to case studies, authors Alexander Tevi (Nottingham Trent University), and Scott Koslow and John Parker (both at Macquarie University) note in their introduction to this article. Underlying their initial question, further, is this: “Are highly creative ideas actually perceived to be independent of media in the first place?”
Tevi, Koslow, and Parker—known for their expertise on the creative process—approached the question of media neutrality by investigating whether ideation techniques such as templates produce the same quality of ads across media. “Unification and activation are examples of templates—deep, repeatable structures in advertising that consumers not only do not see but do not get tired of,” the authors explain, citing an earlier study (Goldenberg and Mazursky, 2008). “An iconic Absolut Vodka print advertisement,” as an example of a metaphor template, “imposes the unique silhouette of the Absolut bottle as Central Park in an aerial photograph of New York, with the line ‘Absolut Manhattan.’ Still other ideation techniques, however, (e.g. extreme consequence, absurd alternative, inversion), tend to be message based …and have a much greater likelihood of developing execution that ultimately will prove media neutral.”
“A media-neutral creative concept thus is one that usually draws from message-based templates, (whereas) concepts that use media-based templates may struggle to move across media platforms.”
The authors sought to find out whether “media neutrality sometimes can impede creativity in that the source of creative ideas can be message dependent but also can be media dependent. …Highly creative advertising usually follows specific patterns or templates, such as unification, metaphor, and extreme consequence, which one can apply to develop new ideas.”
In their research, the authors tested their ideas about media neutrality on a sample of 207 creative professionals who produce advertising in both television and print media. They used two scales from previous research to measure two constructs—originality and strategy—by self-assessments. They presented to the participants a hypothetical brief with one print ad and one TV commercial. The self-reported results showed that ideas from two media-dependent techniques (unification and metaphor) worked well across media. However, the authors note, “advertisers may draw from different media elements to manipulate these techniques … so they may not work together in a coherent campaign.
By contrast, the ideas from the message-dependent, or storytelling, techniques (otherwise referred to as “extreme consequence”) and the control condition did not work well, in fact they led to uneven creative quality across media, the authors reported. “They are more suited to television than print but can be expressed in a more limited way through print. Such trade-offs must be frustrating but are part of everyday life in creative departments.”
In other words, “some creative-ideation techniques are independent of medium but others are highly dependent on medium. Advertisers who want to pursue media-neutral strategies thus also must focus on message-dependent templates, such as extreme consequence. Clients first need to have a persuasive message worth expressing in multiple media. If they do not, then it may be better to follow media-dependent templates—and eschew media-neutral strategies.”
Summing up their findings:
- “The creative ideas represented by templates impose real limits and introduce trade-offs.
- “Knowing what ideation technique works better on which medium will go a long way in meeting the demands of clients.
- “Storytelling techniques, such as extreme consequence—which exaggerates the benefit of the product or service—are not adaptable to all media and are more suitable for television.
- “In assigning briefs to creative teams, creative managers should consider the appropriateness of team members’ creative expertise and skill sets for client-specific product and brand categories.
- “Future research needs to understand better the characteristics of ideas that have legs, such that those ideas can travel across media better.
- “Ideation techniques may perform differently in other product categories, particularly low-involvement ones.”