Laura GroverNovember 15, 20234 min read

Marketers Have Lots of Ideas About What Makes an Effective TV Ad — The Data Often Tells a Different Story

Over the past two decades, brands and agencies have turned TV media buying into an increasingly exact science, but we’ve yet to come close to optimizing the most important part of a TV ad campaign: the creative.

Indeed, marketers are no longer content to target consumers based solely on age and gender demographics — or to rely on imprecise survey results to tell them if their efforts impacted the bottom line. Instead, the modern marketer employs complex statistical modeling and sophisticated programmatic technology to identify the perfect audiences, purchase the right inventory, and pinpoint the exact amount of credit each ad deserves for downstream sales.

But for all the statistical rigor we’ve brought to buying Convergent TV ads, many advertisers are still creating these ads based on a mix of insight and instinct. And these instincts are often rooted in long-held industry myths that don’t always hold up under the harsh light of data. 

When your ad is on the line, you don’t simply trust your gut to buy media. So why would you do so when it comes to creative strategy?

We all know the stats: research from Nielsen shows that creative quality is the single most important predictor of an ad's sales-driving potential. And our own EDO research has found that a staggering 50% of TV advertising effectiveness depends on the creative employed.

In short, creative efficacy isn’t something brands and agencies can afford to leave to chance. If marketers truly want to maximize the impact of their TV ads on business outcomes, they need to mix art AND science by embracing data-driven creative optimization — even if it means leaving some of our industry’s long-held creative myths behind.

When it comes to creative optimization, conventional wisdom often leads us astray

A major challenge for marketers is that many of our industry’s so-called “creative best practices” are riddled with holes.

For instance, many advertisers use copy testing and other forms of pre-market creative surveys to estimate the impact of an ad before it airs. However, what people say about an ad is often much different than what they do after they see it. And the context of where an ad airs and competitive activity impact an ad once it’s live.

When we investigated pre-market surveys for 2,400 creatives across 600 campaigns, eight categories, and 70 brands, an interesting pattern emerged. While copy testing helped brands identify their duds, this method did little to differentiate mediocre creative from the ads that were most effective at inspiring viewers to move closer to purchase by engaging with the advertised brand online.

Similarly, many advertisers hold a false belief that new ads are always more effective than old ones. The truth is more complicated: ads demonstrate different patterns of wearing in (e.g. becoming more engaging over time) or wearing out (e.g. losing effectiveness over time), depending on a number of factors. Typically, we find that the most effective ads start strong and taper off, while the least effective ones become slightly more engaging as consumers see them more frequently.

The path to creative optimization requires real consumer behavior and a willingness to test and learn

The good news for marketers is that modern decision science allows us to go beyond guesswork and identify creative strategies that are proven to drive the outcomes that impact business results.

For instance, one might assume that insurance brands are most likely to inspire consumer engagement when their ads feature clear, quantitative offers that tell viewers exactly how much money they can expect to save with them. But when we analyzed the 2021 TV advertising output of one industry leader, we found that their ads were actually 6% more likely to drive consumer engagement when they featured a general savings message that did not dive into specifics.

We’ve also found that brands can make real gains by eschewing conventional wisdom about pulling ads from the air after they achieve a certain media weight. By keeping multiple ads in rotation and closely monitoring each creative’s impact on consumer engagement over time, marketers can identify the perfect moment to pull an underperformer out of rotation or shift investment to a highly engaging creative.

When brands employ this strategy, which we call Creative Rotation Optimization, we often see them generate an engagement lift of 5%-15% within the first week. And these gains can accelerate and accumulate to a 30%+ increase over the course of a campaign.

Stop leaving money on the table — start optimizing your creative with real consumer outcomes data

While we’ve laid out some data-backed best practices here, the unfortunate truth for advertisers is that every brand, creative, and campaign is unique. What drives business outcomes in one context might undermine performance in another.

In order to ensure that your creative strategies are really working, you need to measure how your ads are impacting the behavior of the real people who see them. By analyzing and interrogating this sort of investment-grade consumer outcomes data, advertisers can identify winning ads and employ the optimal creative mix for the best results.

Sure, it’s not as easy as just trusting your gut. But trust me: the results are more than worth it.


Know What Works. Always.

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