Is creativity more important than media?

The battle for supremacy between the creative message and the medium has resumed

The debate over whether media or creativity has a greater impact on advertising success was reignited last week after comments from Coca-Cola’s European marketing chief, Javier Sanchez.

Speaking at London's Ad Tech conference, Sanchez said Coca-Cola was shifting its emphasis towards marketing creativity over media choices. "Media is still important," he said, "but, proportionally speaking, there has been a shift to creativity in a dramatic way."

This flies in the face of comments by Sir Martin Sorrell, who said last year that the medium is more important than the message in an age of multiple media platforms and fragmenting audiences. Sorrell said the "math men" of media and data were becoming more important than the "mad men" creatives, a fact that didn’t go down well in established agencies.

However, Sanchez said that in the new digital world people can choose whether to watch an ad or not. And indeed, it is true they can opt to watch a YouTube pre-roll spot, decide whether to click on a banner or choose not to see any advertisements at all by using ad-blocking technology on their digital devices.

Thus, developing a well-executed big idea with strong creative appeal that people actually desire to see is the best way to ensure that the advertising is consumed.

But it can be argued that with so many different touchpoints for brands looking to reach fragmenting audiences, it is more vital than ever to get that beautiful piece of creative in front of the right people — so accurate targeting is fundamental to success.

Research points in different directions. Microsoft Advertising conducted tests in 2009, running a variety of media placements for online ads with the same creative and then varying the creative with the same media placements. It concluded that optimizing media placements has more impact on a campaign than optimising the creative alone.

But research from comScore in 2010 showed that creative quality was four times more important in boosting sales than media planning.

What do experts in the field have to say?


YES Nils Leonard, chairman and chief creative officer, Grey London

"Often in the most creative work, media is at the heart of the idea, subverted or twisted to work in a new way. The best brands and marketers have always bought an idea first, then thought smart about how media might amplify the ambition."


NO Nick Baughan, chief executive, Maxus UK

"Creativity and media are not mutually exclusive concepts that need to be traded off against one another. They are not in competition. Today, media thrives in creativity and creativity thrives in media, which is exactly how it should be."


MAYBE Peter Field, consultant and co-author of 'The Long and the Short of It'

"We know that great creativity can improve the efficiency of campaigns tenfold. But no agency can guarantee to deliver great creativity to every brief so, periodically, campaigns will need good old-fashioned paid-for exposure."


YES Cyrus Vantoch-Wood, head of creative, Naked Communications

"Marketers have an ever-changing array of tools to reach audiences. Paid media is clearly a frequently used option, but not the only one. In a world full of numbed eyeballs, what is media without marketing creativity? Not very much."

This article was first published on

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