Is Left-Brain Marketing Killing Marketing Effectiveness?

After several years of bending to client demands for efficiency and activation, creative ad agencies are pushing back. And they’re getting support from researchers who are finding that the focus on efficiency is actually reducing marketing effectiveness.

Orlando Wood, author of Lemon: How the Advertising Brain Turned Sour, says this left-brain/right-brain disconnect is making advertising really boring. Boring advertising means lower consumer engagement, less recall, and a loss of positive brand perceptions


Our right brains are where humor, metaphor, contradiction, nostalgia, cultural references and “all the broad constructs that make life vital and full of color” reside or are generated, writes John Speers at TheDrum. Our left brains, conversely, are where rationality and dry analytics reside, and as Wood suggests, over-reliance on the left brain is a great way to suck the emotive life out of marketing. Clients crave left-brain rationality, compelling agencies to spout desperate speeches about efficiency and accountability—yet, it is marketing’s ability to incite emotions in our customers and audiences that build trust, engagement and brand favorability, i.e., create effective marketing messages, the kind that move people to buy, transact or interact.

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) published a report, “The Crisis in Effectiveness,” in June 2019. The report states that the most-awarded creative campaigns in recent years are barely more effective than non-awarded campaigns. In 2008, creative award-winners could claim 12 times the marketing efficiency (measured as percentage points of market share gain) of non-awarded campaigns. More recently, they’re scraping along at barely 4 times their non-awarded competitors, based on an examination of some 600 case studies submitted to the IPA between 1988 and 2018. Consultant Peter Field believes if we look at today’s award-winners, we’d find even that efficiency advantage has been wiped out.

Field attributes the “effectiveness crisis” to over-emphasis on activation-focused short-term-ism vs. long-term investment in brand building. In short, we may be serving clients what they crave—accountability and measurement—but we’re losing the hearts and minds of audiences, where advertising has always had the greatest impact.

The Death of Emotional Engagement?

This change in investment focus is “changing the very nature of the type of advertising we are generally exposed to: instead of emotionally engaging human stories that seek to charm and captivate, we are seeing more didactic, literal presentations that seek to prompt us into action,” said Field.

The weakening of brands and over-emphasis on short-term activation is also contributing to client perceptions that money spent on creative ideas is wasted… as indeed it is, if that creativity is being used solely for activation instead of building brand awareness and favorability. Creative marketing has always excelled at emotional appeals that engage and create memorable and positive brand perceptions. Failure to prime that pump is causing erosion of trust in and desire for brands. 

Mix Well to Get Better Marketing results

If your goal is effectiveness rather than just achieving budgetary efficiency, your clients need more emotional, engaging content and advertising strategies. Read more about at the Effectiveness report at Contagious, and start talking to clients about the differences between short-term efficiency and longer-term effectiveness. Ideally, clients need to mix these tactics for best results.

"Don’t confuse effectiveness with efficiency. Effectiveness is the extent to which you’ve achieved your goals [number of people reached, net sales or profit generated, etc.]. Efficiency is a measure of effort needed to meet them [usually expressed in ratios, e.g., cost per exposure, return on investment, etc.]. Focus on effectiveness first, efficiency second."

-Les Binet and Sarah Carter


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