Mad Men vs. Math Men: Finding the balance between ROI and creativity
4 min read

Mad Men vs. Math Men: Finding the balance between ROI and creativity

Is the rush to move in-house killing creativity in marketing? Have the Math Men finally outwitted the Mad Men of Madison Avenue? Or –  like, so many other movements – are things just that little bit more complicated?

A recent report into the state of in-housing in Europe, by Bannerflow and Digiday, has uncovered some startling facts regarding creativity and return on investment (ROI). Put plainly, it found that 88 percent of marketing decision makers believe in-house teams are placing too much emphasis on return on investment and results, over creativity.

The state of in-housing 2021 launch blog header

Yet, before in-house creatives start contemplating a career change, the truth may not be quite as clear cut as it first appears.

What are the reasons for the shift to in-house?

In-house brands want tighter control over marketing budgets. The days of simply signing-off on a campaign, or buying programmatically via a “black box” are over.

Indeed, command of budget is lost once you outsource it – and every marketing manager or CMO knows this.  The findings from our report reveal that 87 percent of respondents are concerned with transparency within media agencies. While an astonishing 91 percent of all brands questioned have moved at least part of their digital marketing in-house.

Control of budget and a need for greater accountability is at at the heart of the in-house movement. Not the need for brands to be more creative.

Insight and greater efficiencies

In fact, when asked to rank the biggest reasons for brands to move to in-house greater control over creativity was ranked last. While, the top three perceived reasons for brands going in-house were cost-saving, followed by greater agility, and increased transparency.

Next on the ranking list were improved production efficiencies, the ability to optimise campaigns faster, and greater control over brand messaging. And again, to reiterate, greater creative control came last. It would appear that brands primarily see in-house as a way of improving return on investment via greater accounting control.

The Math Men are leading the charge.

And it’s not just European bands either…

Across the pond, an in-house report by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) in the US found similar reasoning. Around 4/10 of  US advertisers replied that cost efficiencies were the primary reason for using an in-house agency. Indeed, no other benefit – including speed, creative expertise, more control and better brand knowledge – polled greater.

Yet, delve deeper into the stats and you can’t help but think something else is at play.

Is an emphasis on ROI diminishing creativity?

Undoubtedly, of those questioned, increasing ROI, combined with related benefits, is moving marketing in-house.

Yet, decision makers are also very much aware of the reverse effect this focus on ROI is having on creativity within their teams. The importance of the Mad Men within the make-up of in-house teams is not lost.

Perhaps, nowhere more apparent is this in the answer to a question from the report regarding impediments to creativity.

Creativity vs return on investment in-house

Lack of time, high costs, and skills are the primary blockers for in-house creativity. Indeed, external agencies, who would previously do many creative tasks, already have many of the required talents in place. In comparison, brands moving in-house are having to build their in-house teams from scratch – an expensive undertaking if done correctly.

However, these impediments are not surprising.  In the Bannerflow/Digiday report, it was also revealed that these same factors are among the biggest barriers to moving to in-house marketing.

The feeling among in-house marketers

Within the report, decision maker’s surveyed had similar responses in regards to the battle between the in-house Math Men and Mad Men. To quote one: “Marketers tend to become short-term when facing pressure. They point to numbers the CFO/CEO can understand. Results from creativity are harder to measure”.  And another: “The bottom line is always money”.

But from one respondent there lies the true reasoning between ROI and in-house creativity: “I think smart marketers know it’s both a Mad Men and a Math Men world”.

Creativity or better ROI? Why not both?

Indeed, for all the impediments to creativity within marketing teams, being creative still offers a sound route to a better ROI. In fact, for in-house marketing teams finding the sweet spot of ROI and creative productions is a key driver for success.

For Direct Line, Marketing Director, Mark Evans, like many other decision makers interviewed finding this position is critical. “In a data-driven world the bottom line will always be the return of investment, but this goes hand-in-glove with creativity – it’s an ‘and’, not an ‘or’. To connect with consumers and influence their behaviour to drive a commercial return requires creativity”.

No wonder maintaining this balance is among the biggest challenge facing European brands who move in-house.

Yet, there are helpful solutions that brands are implementing within their teams.

Technology offers a way forward

In fact, without recent advances in technology, in-house marketing would not be possible.

According to Lucozade Ribena Suntory’s Head of Digital Marketing, Rick Oakley, “technology is driving the move towards in-house”. He adds: “Technology isn’t going to be reversed. I can’t see why businesses will move back to using agencies for services they can now deliver themselves.”

And brands know this: 96% of those questioned believe that technology has allowed marketers to take operations in-house. Yet, 1 in 5 also believe that an inability to use technology correctly is an impediment to creativity.

Clearly, having the technology is one thing – being able to use it for the benefit of both ROI and creativity is another.

Lessons from in-house digital ad production

Digital ad production is one area where in-house technology is changing the way brands work for the better. Creative management platforms (CMPs) are helping brands to produce complex, multi-channel, dynamic ad campaigns, in-house.

Furthermore, CMPs are reducing in-house ad production time by weeks, removing costly repetitive tasks, and providing Math Men with real-time performance data. Offering in-house teams, greater ROI and full transparency.

Creativity and a greater ROI in one platform

Yet, CMPs are also increasing creativity within these same teams.

By saving designers’ time, they are providing more time for innovation. And because they are format agnostic, they can encompass a range of ad formats as varied as digital out-of-home (DOOH), to video.

Expect to see more ad tech that satisfies the Math Men but offers the ingenuity that the Mad Men crave. Experimentation and agility will sit alongside long-term strategy and creative optimisations going forward.


Ultimately, in-house marketing offers the benefits that brands desire – from efficient production to transparency over costs. Yet, if in-housing is to change the way brands work for the better in the long-term, issues over creativity and ROI need to disappear.

The Mad Men and Math Men need to find harmony. Successful teams will find ways of embracing the numbers and remaining innovative. Whether that is through hiring the right staff, using the best technology, or following a hybrid in-house strategy, we shall see.

Unfortunately, marketers or agencies aching for a return to the “old way” working are going to have to adapt. And for those individuals focused purely on the numbers, they too may be in for disappointment. In-housing is changing the way everyone works.

To find out more about the state of in-house marketing in Europe, and other issues affecting brands’ way of working, download Bannerflow and Digiday’s exclusive report.

Click below to download our Display Advertising Trends 2019 infographic!

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