McKinsey's 'creative' index: method behind the absurdity

03 Jul 2017  |  Dominic Mills 
McKinsey's 'creative' index: method behind the absurdity

McKinsey's Jason Heller

There’s a tendency at Cannes to see creativity in a fluffy bubble - but McKinsey sent an especially valuable message that the entire industry needs to hear, writes Dominic Mills

When I heard that McKinsey, the management consultancy famed for its evidence-led empiricism, would be launching its ‘creativity’ index at Cannes last month, I had to stifle a laugh.

“Oh no,” I thought, “not someone else trying to climb on board the Cannes/creative bandwagon.” I had visions of legions of McKinsey-ites cruising the Croisette in their official ‘chill’ uniform: pressed khaki chinos; McKinsey-branded, box-fresh polo shirts (white, naturally), brown deck shoes; mobile phones clipped to their belts.

Without even blushing, they’d drop words like ‘strategisation’ and ‘operationalisation’ into the conversation. They’d look as comfortable as Theresa May at Glastonbury.

Indeed, the premise was big on absurdity and a short on promise. In a talk entitled ‘The Economics of Creativity’, McKinsey was preparing to unveil its Awards Creative Score (ASC) index, an attempt to define and measure creativity via a study of 16 years’ worth of Cannes Lions winners.

Normally I am intensely sceptical about this sort of thing. However much people want to believe it is possible to bottle something as magical and ephemeral as creativity - and McKinsey clearly has a vested interest in proving it can - I don’t. If it was, Hollywood would get it right every time.

The idea also plays to one of my pet peeves about Cannes, which is the way it has been hijacked and taken over by people on the fringes of the ad world or who do not have its interests truly at heart - consultants, tech companies and so on - as well as pointless celebs.

In fact, once you get over the apparent absurdity of the title - in truth, more a misnomer - there was a lot to be said for the talk. Indeed, you could say it’s exactly the kind of thing that Cannes should be doing more of, and less of the Halle Berry crap about female spending power, as described here.

You can watch the whole thing here, or read a rigorous McKinsey think piece here.

The underlying notion of the talk as presented by McKinsey’s Jason Heller - who pleasingly looks more like a wannabe metal band bass guitarist than a chino-ed consultant clone - is that advertisers/brands that have done well at Cannes (thus pleasing the CMO) score highly on financial measures such as organic revenue growth, total shareholder return and net economic value (thus pleasing the CEO, the CFO and investors).

His real point, however, is not that Cannes creativity per se drives financial performance, but that marketing/advertising creativity is fostered and enhanced by a wider set of organisational behaviours that combine to bring better performance.

The ASC ‘index’ is McKinsey’s attempt to quantify these behaviours. Thus, to give a few highlights:

- 30 per cent of high-scorers on the ASC talk about creativity at board level;

- 70 per cent see marketing as an investment, not a cost, and 25 per cent prioritise or protect it;

- Advertisers with high ASC scores have a greater propensity for risk, and 74 per cent believe speed in turning data/insight into actions fast makes a difference;

- And those with high ASCs have KPIs around speed, action and so on.

There’s much more, including the point that true business creativity includes not just marketing, but also innovation in areas such as business models, customer care, data and analytics.

And this is why I think the McKinsey talk was especially valuable. There’s a tendency at Cannes to see creativity in a fluffy bubble - just outsource it to marketing and the agencies, while the rest of the organisation gets on the with the real business.

In fact, as Heller stressed, the reality is that creativity only flourishes when the wider concept of it is embraced across the whole client organisation.

This is a message that the entire industry needs to hear, and Cannes seems the right place to start to get it across.

If I have a complaint, it is that - proprietary information, client confidentiality etc - we don’t know who these high-performance ASC advertisers are.

The talk, in that sense, was all tease and no reveal. But then I suppose that is part of the sales pitch.

More Cannes absurdities...

Cannes is currently going through some much-needed soul searching after a critical mauling...too expensive, too ‘salesy’, too big, too greedy, irrelevant content...from the punters.

Gleaning some gossip from those who were there, let me throw a couple more absurdities into the mix.

One attendee told me their most productive meeting was with someone who a) they had had lunch with two weeks before and b) works just round the corner from them in London. So why did they go?

One media organisation reportedly blew half its Cannes budget on hiring the ‘entertainment’ (and I’m not talking about a yacht here) for its Cannes party.

I understand that for suppliers Cannes has become an arms race, but future protestations of poverty and budget pain from this particular outfit won’t carry much weight.

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