Is advertising getting better or has the industry stalled since the pandemic?

Is advertising getting better? A question the industry rarely stops to consider, because of course it is…right?

Advertising effectiveness is bouncing back this year after brands missed the empathy-train in an inflation-riddled 2022 rather than capitalise on its success during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Using data from over 2,300 ads and almost one million US consumers over four years, consumer insights platform Zappi has compiled its first ‘State of Creative Effectiveness' report, in a bid to identify an evidence-based answer to the question: Is advertising getting better?.

The broad conclusion? Creative effectiveness suffered a disappointing 2022 but as we enter the latter half of 2023, advertising is in bounce-back mode.

Steve Phillips, CEO of Zappi, said: “The good news is that our data shows creative effectiveness is trending upward in 2023. But this positive momentum is merely offsetting what was a down year in 2022. Our data shows that while advertisers mobilised quickly to reach consumers with empathetic messages during the pandemic, they missed that same connection as inflation peaked.

“Effective advertising happens when advertisers understand their consumers and create work that connects the brand to their needs. Those don’t know their audience may just be wasting precious marketing budgets on ineffective advertising that misses the mark.”

Emotionally-charged ads drive effectiveness

Throughout the ‘pandemic-era’ marketers saw huge bottom line gains from emotionally charged ads, particularly those leaning into empathy, per Zappi’s report. Ads during this period scored 17.5% better in emotional appeal than pre-pandemic ads, which led in part to a 32% uplift in purchase uplift.

However, as more brands recognised the effectiveness of empathy, it became challenging to stand out from the crowd, resulting in a 5.6% decline in brand recall in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Creative effectiveness is recovering

The report identified an industry-wide failure to match changing consumer behaviour which occurred in the post-pandemic era, specifically during the period of increasing inflation from mid-2021 and throughout 2022. In July 2021, creative effectiveness decreased 2%, along with other factors indicating advertising success such as purchase uplift (-7%) and emotional intensity (-4.5%).

Less emotional advertising during this period failed to resonate with consumers who had begun burning through their pandemic savings to counter rising costs of living.

But the industry appears to have refined its approach to advertising amid a cost-of-living crisis. According to Zappi’s research, across the board, effectiveness metrics in 2023 are outpacing averages from 2022.

Brand appeal has increased 8%, indicating that brands have identified the topics and trends that increase consumer perceptions, and emotional intensity has also improved 7% from last year, sitting just below the pandemic peak of emotionally-charged messaging. The research also found a 5% improvement in purchase uplift compared to last year, suggesting that advertising in general has regained some of the ground lost both throughout and shortly following the pandemic.

So, to answer whether advertising is getting better, Zappi's data indicates that although the industry has faced a period of difficulty, it is bouncing back slowly…but perhaps not yet surely.