Advertising is typically not a PR concern, but this new research from ad and product development market research platform Zappi examining advertising’s effectiveness through the pandemic and subsequent period of rising inflation offers some interesting insights into the value of creativity—and some viable takeaways for PR pros as we continue to fight through an unsteady economy and the uproar of the political season ahead.
The firm’s first annual State of Creative Effectiveness report—developed from its data on more than 2,300 ads from consumer brands and nearly one million U.S. consumers between 2019 and 2023, and now offering a mid-year update—found that creative effectiveness in 2023 has rebounded from a disappointing 2022, and is set to outperform pre-pandemic advertising, according to its consumer testing.
“We wanted to put the industry under the microscope to find out if advertising is getting any better,” said Steve Phillips, CEO of Zappi, in a news release. “The good news is that our data shows creative effectiveness is trending upward in 2023. But this positive momentum is merely offsetting what was a down year in 2022. Our data shows that while advertisers mobilized quickly to reach consumers with empathetic messages during the pandemic, they missed that same connection as inflation peaked. Effective advertising happens when marketers understand their consumers and create work that connects the brand to their needs. Those don’t know their audience may just be wasting precious marketing budgets on ineffective advertising that misses the mark.”
The report seeks to understand what drives advertising effectiveness at specific moments in time. In a challenging environment, marketers need to build communications that reach consumers with distinctive messages, cut through the clutter, make a lasting impression by resonating with them, and incite a strong response to drive consideration.
Key findings from the report:
Empathy drove effectiveness in the ‘pandemic-era’ and marketers saw huge bottom-line gains from emotionally charged ads
Amid the unprecedented changes to consumers’ ways of working and living during the pandemic, brands saw strong ad performance by leaning into messages of empathy. Ads during this period scored 17.5 percent better in emotional appeal than pre-pandemic ads, which led in part to a massive 32 percent boost to purchase uplift. Despite strong gains in emotional resonance and response, brand recall declined 5.6 percent from pre-pandemic levels as it became harder to stand out in the crowd.
Inflation-era advertising was less effective—failing to match changing consumer behavior
While marketers achieved strong advertising performance through the pandemic by quickly adapting, inflation impacted consumers more gradually. In July 2021, creative effectiveness declined 2 percent, along with important indicators of high-performing advertising, such as purchase uplift (-7 percent) and emotional intensity (-4.5 percent). This less emotive advertising didn’t resonate with consumers who had begun burning through their pandemic savings to counter rising costs.
Creative effectiveness in 2023 is recovering and out-performing pre-pandemic averages
Almost across the board, effectiveness metrics in 2023 are outpacing averages from the previous year. Brand appeal—an assessment of how an ad made the consumer feel—increased 8 percent from 2022, meaning that brands have identified the topics and trends that move consumer perceptions. Meanwhile, advertising in 2023 is causing consumers to feel again. Emotional intensity improved 7 percent from 2022, although it is still slightly lower than the pandemic peak of emotionally charged messaging. Finally, we saw a 5 percent improvement in purchase uplift, as advertising regained some ground on the pandemic era.