Effective creative: The underutilised power of social for brand building

To unleash the potential of social brands must treat it as they do other media

Kally Boshnakova, Wavemaker UK

Creative Lead


In September, Eliud Kipchoge broke his own world record, finishing the Berlin Marathon in 2:01:09. Kipchoge pushed humanity’s collective threshold just that little bit further, making us just that little bit faster than the day before.

Nike heralded, and celebrated, this profound achievement by posting that ‘Only Eliud Kipchoge is faster than himself’ across its social channels, including Instagram and Twitter; with an image that simply stated, ‘The human race just got faster. 2:01:09’. A post that resonated with followers across the globe - getting close to half a million likes on Instagram. Objectively, a brilliant example of how effective and powerful advertising can be, particularly on social. 

Effective creative is built with originality and good humour, using mechanics like storytelling and musicality to resonate emotionally with its target audience, hold their attention and drive mental availability for brands.

Kally Boshnakova, Creative Lead, Wavemaker UK

However, if we are being totally honest, the overall quality of creative on social channels is often a little lacklustre. This can, in part, be attributed to the fact that social is often sidelined by the creative department. The development of a compelling story or narrative, depth of emotion and considered design is reserved for other media channels including TV, OOH, VOD, and Print.

It would be fair to say that social channels are undoubtedly a trickier playing field - advertisers can’t insist on views in the same way as say TV. Added to this is the fact that stories are constrained to mediums that force them to grab the viewer’s attention in as little as 3 seconds, compared to a guaranteed 30” spot on TV. This proves how necessary strong, effective creative is to stand out and drive salience.

So, what are the building blocks of greatness when it comes to unleashing the power of social channels?

Effective creative is built with originality and good humour, using mechanics like storytelling and musicality to resonate emotionally with its target audience, hold their attention and drive mental availability for brands.

In ‘Look Out’, Orlando Wood describes a split in how advertising is processed. The broad-beam, attention-loving right hemisphere of the brain responds to greater emotion and more abstract ideas. The narrow-beam attention left side of the brain favours flatter, more literal messaging. Both types of attention have their function: brand-building advertising captivates broad-beam attention, and sales activation is processed by the narrow-beam. For advertisers, broad-beam is particularly valuable - it encodes the brand in long-term memory, which can translate to lasting commercial benefit.

Beware of content that drives meaningless engagements. Countless brands bow down at the altar of trends, putting out frenetic posts with tenuous links. The intention is to be seen as being ‘current’, but in fact, it is a prime example of short-termism in advertising. It might drive cheap engagement spikes on National Cabbage Day, but how meaningful are those engagements when they do little to drive awareness amongst the right audiences and anchor the brand to its story?

Best practice does not equate to effective creative. Facebook’s ‘Brilliant Basics’ guidelines propose advice on clear branding and sound off-design. Oftentimes advertisers turn to this as a checklist for effective creative. But this only scratches the surface by answering whether the creative is fit for purpose, not effective.

System1 tested campaigns that adhere to these ‘Brilliant Basics’ and found that whilst helpful in achieving increased ad recall, this alone wasn’t sufficient in driving brand awareness. On the other hand, campaigns that scored highly in eliciting an emotional response drove significantly increased brand awareness - the predominant role of our brand-building activity.

Best practice guidelines are great but omit the importance of creativity within the ad space. Creativity is what will elevate your content above the sea of the mundane and drive effectiveness.

Viva le mantra, ‘Great creative is effective creative’. Engage the right-brain by creating emotion through story - dialogue, narrative, character, humour, melody, and a sense of progression and idea. The storytelling principles we revere when it comes to more traditional channels shouldn’t be dismissed for social, despite the stage being smaller.

Invest creativity into formats where it performs. Left-brain skew on social is one of the highest relative to other channels. Social has often been relegated as a sales activation channel due to its granular targeting capabilities. This works, but we’re missing a trick not utilising its potential for brand building, where consistency and frequency pay off. Both easy wins on social.

From ‘Crisis in Creativity’, we’re familiar with the multiplier effect of strong creativity, but this offers less value to short-term conversion content. Creativity works its magic by crafting moving right-brain messages. So, in this effectiveness game, invest your creativity into the formats where it can be most useful and give you the best return on investment, that is, in emotive brand-building creative. 

Prioritise a cohesive brand message. Crafting social, creative guidelines will act as a visual framework that can anchor output throughout the year. Social should be reframed as a year-long spot, each post acting as a potent distillation of brand story and values, plugging into one unified narrative.

Have the resources to produce consistently. Social is always on, so ensure you’ve planned the resources needed to deliver for the long term. Posting intermittently will have less impact than consistent messaging.

Consider what is being tracked and how useful it is. Social measurement systems lend themselves more easily to short-term strategy over long-term - encouraging brands to look at posts in isolation. Moreover, success is measured on engagement and performance metrics rather than long-term brand metrics. This gives brands a measure of efficiency rather than creative effectiveness.

With mountains of data at their disposal, it’s easy for brands to get caught up in red herrings if they have not clearly defined the correct indicators for their campaign objective. For creative effectiveness, brands need to prioritise big-picture brand awareness.

Change how you measure and report on social creative. When assessing your creative effectiveness against metric engagement performance, ask, ‘How well does this capture the brand?’ and ‘How much does this emotionally engage?’ Capturing long-term data will allow you insights to support a brand-building strategy. As part of Wavemaker Creative Performance, we build bespoke measurement structures, codifying assigned brand metrics against existing Meta performance data to measure effectiveness. Don’t take performance data at face value but build a way to review it within the longer-term context of your activity.

It’s social and TV, not social or TV. Social is only one part of what drives a brand forward. Macro data from Econometrics and Market Mix modelling or incrementality testing, such as brand lift studies, can provide an invaluable big-picture view of social performance within the full plan context.

Brand-building might be more difficult in the in-feed environment, but it allows advertisers and brands to capture more valuable attention on a channel that is cheap, immediate, and boasts great shareability potential. To unleash the power of this channel, brands must push for better creativity by applying the same principles they live by on other media channels. They must challenge themselves to create more right-brain social creative that moves people and connects their brands with audiences on a human level.

Guest Author

Kally Boshnakova, Wavemaker UK

Creative Lead, Wavemaker


Kally Boshnakova is Creative Lead at Wavemaker, working with brands to put better stories out into the world. In her role, she leads on creative strategy and production, specialising in digital and social.

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Social Creativity