Evaluating creative work
Warc Best Practice
Evaluating creative work
Merry Baskin outlines a process for researching advertising work to help avoid making a costly mistake in creative judgement
Were I to ask you to nominate your favourite work of art, even if you know nothing about art, even if you picked the first one
that popped into your head, you would have an opinion and make a choice. Yet if I gave you its value at auction, it would be a
fairly straightforward thing to research and establish, and the 'winner' would be instantly apparent, universal and undisputed.
The term 'evaluating creative work' implies the same – clarity, acuity and decisive creative judgement, but all too often it's a
matter of personal preferences.
Gatorade's 'Replay' campaign was so successful, it developed into a TV series
It should not be just about you, of course, bringing your gut instincts, your expertise or prejudice, your personal fears and
career ambitions to bear on the work in hand. There is also the bottom line to consider, the brand's long-term fortunes, your
ongoing relationship with the agency, the likely competitive reactions as well as those of the target audience. Don't forget that
it is rare to be invited to comment upon the finished work; 99% of the time, you are looking at ideas in concept or rough form,
which places even greater pressure on your ability to conceive, project, imagine and take a punt.
Evaluating creative work is a big ask, and despite attempts by agencies to set out clear formulae and rational criteria for
evaluating their creative concepts, all too often it is the client's 'hidden' criteria that dominate the call, and these can be very
Title: Evaluating creative work
Author(s): Merry Baskin
Source: Warc Best Practice
Issue: December 2010
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subjective and hugely variable.
You must start by establishing the evaluation criteria, upfront, and there are various ways to do this.
Be confident in your opinions. Identify your most admired communications campaigns or executions. They could be TV/cinema
ads, posters, PR stunts, sponsorship links, websites, promotions, social media mashups. Interrogate them–figure out why they
made the cut on your list and what it is that makes them so effective. Do the same for your most despised campaigns.
Establish your personal criteria for what makes a good or bad piece of branded communication and determine which of those
you should apply in your professional evaluations of your brand's creative concepts.
Be well informed. Keep up to speed with the brand communications that are out there, what's been done and how they
worked. Check out the current award winners, and not just the latest Cannes reel. Read the IPA Effectiveness Awards
winners, the APG Creative Strategy Awards, the Jay Chiat Strategic Excellence Awards and the DMA awards, and learn from
their insightful thinking, clever strategies and cut-through creative ideas–all available on warc.com. Garner as many savvy tips
and techniques as you can. Add them to your list.
Develop a theory on how communication works. This is fundamental to any marketing activity. Thanks to the likes of
developments in neuroscience and behavioural economics, things have moved on greatly from the one-dimensional model of
the 1950s, where "if product claims are repeated with enough frequency, people will remember them and branded recall of
said phrase will have a positive effect on subsequent buying behaviour". You can do a lot better than that, because the
answer, of course, to 'how does communication work?' is 'it depends'. There is no excuse for not developing hypotheses for
your campaigns at the briefing stage.
Put it in the creative brief itself. The brief should contain the evaluation criteria you have decided upon. It should state the
communication objectives, and any brand or comms metrics that will be applied. Such criteria should at least outline the
desired response or key message.
Once that upfront work is out of the way, the next stage is how to react when you are presented with the concepts themselves.
IDENTIFY WITH THE AUDIENCE
Be hugely insightful about your target audience. This requires more effort if you, personally, are not in the same cohort. I
recently presented a Facebook idea to a 40-something German brand Panjandram for a multinational client – one of those
who actually has the power to say 'no' – who confessed to having absolutely no idea about what Facebook was or how it
worked. Given that this was targeting an 18-24 female age group, the whole presentation went off the rails while we delivered
Social Media 101 and explained what x-billion status updates an hour actually meant. If you are patently not the target
audience and appear to have made little effort to get to know them, what on earth makes you think you are fit to judge
Be prepared. Re-read the brief and be clear what the advertising is meant to achieve. Go in with a clear mind – leave
unrelated pressures and worries outside. Go in with an open mind. Treat every idea (and person) with respect. Be excited–
seeing creative work in its early stages is a privilege, and it's fun.
Deconstruct communications concepts into their constituent parts. Whatever media or discipline you are operating in, be it PR
or advertising, TV or direct marketing, promotion or sponsorship, there are usually three elements to disentangle: the strategy
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or proposition; the creative idea; and the executional elements. Recognise the consequences of your response to each of
these distinct and discrete elements and never confuse or conflate them. If you question the strategy, that means a new brief,
and it's everybody back to the drawing board. If this happens, be honest and upfront about your responsibility in this – you
should have signed this off before the expensive creative work started and now you appear to have changed your mind. If you
are querying the idea, then what you need is a new ad, or concept, but to the same original brief. If you are challenging the
executional and tonal elements, then what you are asking for is a new iteration of the idea. As you have no doubt surmised,
there are huge time and cost implications for where your judgement falls.
Organise your responses. Articulate the idea in your own words to make sure you have understood it. Confirm it's on brief.
Share what the idea conveys to you, and why. Ensure you are all agreed on the idea before getting into the executional detail.
Only once you have understood the idea can you then explore whether it is appropriate.
Recognise that the unexpected is a good thing. Often it is the 'ideal' you hope for. It is not necessarily wrong. Say what
surprised you and why. Ask questions rather than making statements.
A good recent example is Gatorade (Jay Chiat Awards for Strategic Excellence Grand Prix Winner 2010). The objective was to
reignite the athletic spark in both the brand and those who drank it. The strategy comes out of the key consumer insight: all
professional athletes and even the most sedentary ex-athletes sipping Gatorade while sitting on the sofa watching sport have
regrets–the ball they fumbled, the shot they missed, the pass they dropped – culminating in a devastating match loss that
haunts them still.
The strategy was defined as: "Provide a catalyst for athletic redemption that only Gatorade could provide." The creative idea
was to offer a second chance for people to replay that shameful game again, helped back to match fitness by Gatorade.
The first execution was a competition to identify the most regretted result. They chose a 1993 high-school football game that
had ended in a tie with a last-second failed goal. No-one was happy about the ending and both the players and the coaches
were up for a second chance. The players were contacted and put through a three-month training regime, online diaries were
blogged, the match was replayed, the tickets sold out in hours, the TV campaign filmed it and the matter was resolved once
and for all. The idea has now become a TV series in which closely fought games are replayed across a variety of sports.
If the client had said 'I prefer tennis–can't we have a US Open replay between Borg and Connors?', it would have shown that
at least he understood and liked the idea, if not his target audience. Had he said 'I don't think we want to associate Gatorade
with losers, do we?', the creative idea has come into question. And if the feedback had been that he wanted the advertising to
celebrate how Tiger Woods enjoyed the great taste of Gatorade as well as its isotonic properties, then probably someone
would have tipped a bucket of the stuff over his head, because he would have been unpicking the strategy.
It's very hard to tell upfront if a communications idea is going to move people, shift product or raise the bottom line. Just ask
those moguls in Hollywood, where the prize of success is huge and the cost of losses equally awesome. Imagine being the
studio that passed up Home Alone, or ET. Imagine being the publishers who turned down JK Rowling (there were several).
The first thing is to know what you are feeling and why you are feeling it. Then turn to what you think, and how clearly you can
articulate it. Creative presentations can get confrontational because people can't separate (emotional) feelings from rational
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Poor creative judgement costs you, and even the best can
Below are the 10 critical questions to ask at the creative presentation to help you understand the idea. Ask open questions.
Listen carefully to the answers. How you deal with the responses will determine whether you end up with a successful
campaign or a waste of money.
l What is the idea?
l What sparked off the idea?
l What other ideas did you have?
l Why was this your preferred idea?
l Why do you think it's an appropriate idea?
l What is the one thing that makes it a memorable idea?
l What are the problems with the idea?
l What are the risks?
l How will the idea move across channels?
l What would you do with another week?
FURTHER READING ON WARC.COM
Jay Chiat Awards for Strategic Excellence: Grand Prix 2010-Gatorade: "A Story of Second Chances", Geoffrey Precourt
The Business of Creative Training, Patrick Collister, Admap June 2007
The Games Advertising Copywriters Play: Conflict, Quasi-Control, a New Proposal, ArthurJ Kover and Stephen M Goldberg,
JAR, August 1995
The End of 'Think Global, Act Local': Big Ideas Are Global, William Charnock, Market Leader, Summer 2007
Breakthrough Creativity: A Blend of Art and Science, Philip Gladman and Andrew Melsom, Market Leader, Winter 2005
Judging Creative Work–IPA Best Practice Guide, Institute of Practitioners in Advertising
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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