COMMENT - IPA award to drugs campaign carries a mixed message

Call it fate, call it coincidence, but there’s a certain piquancy about the fact that - five days after the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising handed out its effectiveness grand prix to the HEA - last Sunday’s Breakfast with Frost featured an interview with the drugs czar, Keith Hellawell. Questioned by Michael Buerk, Hellawell hung on to the line that, yes, they were winning the war.

Call it fate, call it coincidence, but there’s a certain piquancy

about the fact that - five days after the Institute of Practitioners in

Advertising handed out its effectiveness grand prix to the HEA - last

Sunday’s Breakfast with Frost featured an interview with the drugs czar,

Keith Hellawell. Questioned by Michael Buerk, Hellawell hung on to the

line that, yes, they were winning the war.



Now, it is not the main purpose of this column to attack Duckworth

Finn’s paper. But it is to query the judges’ decision to award it the

grand prix.



Why do I feel uncomfortable with this decision? Two reasons - the first

of which concerns the wider picture. Rightly, the IPA has made much of

the need for the awards to address an audience beyond the marketing

director - primarily, in this case, the chief executives and finance

directors who sign the cheques and the City analysts who effectively

endorse their decisions.



To this end, the IPA has brought the Financial Times into the fold to

provide the most direct route to this audience. Strange then that the

grand prix in the first of these new, improved awards should go to a

campaign and a paper which was avowedly non-commercial in its objective

and which, moreover, did not operate in a competitive framework.

Stranger still that this decision was made by an all-client jury.



The IPA will defend itself by saying it cannot tell a jury how to

vote.



I agree. But it can devise a separate category for public service,

charity and non-commercial campaigns from commercial and competitive

tasks.



Before anybody says this is a cop-out, let me point out that there is

precedent for this. All the major creative awards ceremonies make this

distinction based on the wholly reasonable view that there is a

qualitative difference between, say, a car or a mobile phone advertiser

and a charity or public service.



This is not to say you cannot measure them for effectiveness, merely

that they operate in different worlds and should be judged

accordingly.



By way of interest, looking through the winners of the past four IPA

Effectiveness Awards, I note that although there have been

commendations, not one public service or charity campaign has won a

major prize - the judges in every case plumping for ’commercial’

alternatives.



More to the point, if you look at the five-star winners, does the IPA

really expect the audience it so wishes to impress not to think there’s

something funny about the advertising process if the jury is more

impressed by the proof of a negative (ie I didn’t take drugs today

because of that ad) in a non-commercial context than it is to prove a

positive (ie I bought Colgate/Marmite etc today because of that ad)? I

hope not, but I fear so.



Have your say in CampaignLive’s Forum on Channel 4 at

www.campaignlive.com.



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