In these volatile times, some may question the relevance of communications industry awards. Yet the IPA Effectiveness Awards - unique as the only awards scheme in the world judged solely on commercial payback - contain valuable lessons to help us survive and prosper.
We are undoubtedly entering an era characterised by more cautious business and consumer attitudes to risk, coupled with increased Government intervention and external regulation. The existing intense pressure on businesses and public service organisations to prove the value of the investments they make can only increase.
All of which makes the Awards, and this latest batch of winners, more important than ever. Twenty-eight years of competitions have yielded a databank of more than 1,200 cases covering a myriad of problems, categories, audiences, creative and media ideas, channel selections and supporting evidence; all united by the common cause of demonstrating how investment in communications has delivered commercial value.
Considered as a whole, the IPA dataBANK is a fascinating tale of the evolution of commercially effective communications and our understanding of how they work. In Darwinian terms, we are reviewing the "fittest" - those best equipped to thrive, whatever the prevailing conditions.
While the 2008 winners spring from a very different economic climate to the times ahead, there are consistent themes that are reinforced by 28 years of evidence, along with some significant emerging trends. Those who seek a ready formula for payback on their communications investment will inevitably be disappointed. Those who use the lessons below to inform and challenge their own strategies and ideas can only increase their chances of survival and success.
Ideas working locally and globally
Ideas are at the heart of each of these cases - creative communications ideas of extraordinary power deployed within appropriate channels. They are engines of growth and confidence. As a result, brand owners enjoy longevity and stability of revenues and profits, the ability to plan a business and deploy assets and resources; and public services are able to change behaviour and attitudes for social and economic benefit.
The Awards have consistently demonstrated the power of the idea to transform businesses and brands. This year's winners again demonstrate this, for the first time with cases that take big ideas on to the global stage.
Both the Grand Prix winner, Johnnie Walker, and Dove show how ideas can build bona fide global icons. Both took declining franchises and transformed them via a powerful core idea flexible enough to adapt to local and organisational needs, working across markets and multiple channels. Each is built on human truths with universal resonance. Dove's quest to "help more women feel more beautiful every day" and Johnnie Walker's aim to "inspire personal progress" are enduring, powerful engines of global growth.
Sainsbury's "Try something new today" is both an evolution and optimisation of big idea "best practice". The precision of the business objective of persuading shoppers to spend an extra £1.14 a trip, and the impressive application of the idea to both internal and external audiences, makes its phenomenal success seem deceptively easy.
The growth of multiple channels
Television remains the dominant medium, used in 22 of the 23 winners. This is unsurprising, given its still unrivalled ability to bring reach and impact for mass-market brands (from supermarkets to fast food, this continues to be a critical task). What is changing is the way in which TV is blended with previously "supporting" channels.
2008's winners used, on average, six channels; in 2004, the corresponding number was four and, in 1990, just two. While driven, in part, by the explosion of channels available, there is clearly a cultural shift away from the historic "silo mentality" of disciplines and channels. Media-led solutions are increasingly evident.
The long-running Home Office campaign used a strong visual device to unify a range of messages across multiple crimes. Winner of the Best Media prize in 2008 and 2006, TV was deployed for awareness, while print and ambient targeted "moments of careless stupidity". These included public transport, garage forecourts, bars, door hangers in student accommodation and door drops in high burglary risk postcodes.
The silver winner Audi's growth as a prestige brand was supported by an innovative channel mix, consistently deployed - ranging from advertising to interactive TV, podcasts and direct marketing. Each model launch featured iconic communications innovations that helped make Audi part of popular culture - for the RS3, a special edition of GQ, while the TT's launch was accompanied by an exhibition of photographs of Jimi Hendrix.
Lucozade Sport, which also won a silver award, doubled its sales with a decreased budget thanks to a better conversation with a tighter audience, forensically targeting "competitive warriors" with communications and partnerships tailored to different sports environments. Intelligent and innovative approaches to such diverse sports as football, running, rowing and hockey delivered coherence without resorting to the traditional integrated approach of "one size fits all".
There was also much evidence here of the power of "overcommitment" to a brand or consumer truth to deliver results in increasingly cluttered and undifferentiated categories.
KFC's gold-winning "finger lickin' good" campaign ignored the temptations of attempting to represent the outlets as a healthy option in an increasingly anti-fast food environment. Celebrating why people loved KFC in the first place led to a reversal of fortune.
The supermarket chains Waitrose and Morrisons, meanwhile, used truths of "quality" and "freshness", respectively, to build distinctive and compelling territories. For Waitrose, this involved adding a layer of ethical value to the already established platform of "quality food honestly priced". For Morrisons it meant focusing on its market-stall roots and its commitment to fresh food. This galvanised the organisation in the wake of the Safeway takeover and created competitive advantage.
As a much-loved (and hated) British institution, Marmite risked the wrath of its existing purists by introducing the squeezy format. But maintaining its commitment to the provocative love/hate strategy reassured fans that "their Marmite" was still theirs.
Danone Activia took advantage of changed health claim regulations to focus solely on the unpleasant problem of bloating, resulting in sales growth of 459 per cent in three-and-a-half years. Communications driving this claim transformed a brand that was previously on a sales and penetration plateau.
The public service approach
Public service campaigns feature heavily in the Awards, helped by a strong effectiveness culture, based on the obligation to demonstrate that public money is well spent. 2008's winners include seven from the public service arena, and it is their diversity that particularly stands out.
The proposed introduction of electronic payments for social security and pension payments met with widespread public and media hostility. There was no personal incentive to switch nor would there be any penalty for refusal. Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy's campaign for Direct Payments succeeded by adopting a powerful spin-free posture, with the conventional marketing approaches of persuasion and benefits eschewed in favour of simple, helpful information portrayed as neutrally as possible. This diffusion of an emotionally charged issue led to an over-delivery on Government targets, and 95 per cent of the target audience switching within two years.
The Home Office, Learndirect and Transport for London's Cabwise cases draw heavily on the established practices of consumer marketing where brand mnemonics are familiar vehicles to create consistent identities and provide nudges to consumer behaviour and attitudes. Each acted as shorthands for their respective services. Learndirect's jigsaw dramatises the incompleteness people can feel about their jobs and careers, acting as a simple cipher for messages about the practical solutions to improving your prospects. Cabwise's branding was deployed to dissuade women from using illegal minicabs and provide practical information on how to use the text service.
Helmet wearing in Vietnam, seatbelt wearing in Ireland, and the Trident anti-gun message are perhaps closest to the archetypal public service campaign. For many social issues, confrontation is a powerful tool - whether it highlights the stupid excuses for not wearing a crash helmet, the moral irresponsibility of failing to wearing a seatbelt or the appalling consequences of gun crime. Each tackles a widely recognised negative societal issue via powerful imagery that dramatises the problem and delivers a strong rallying call against it.
The Small can survive and thrive
Since 1980, these Awards have consistently shown that limited resources are no barrier to commercial success. Creative ideas and content, which genuinely engage, are less reliant on big budgets and paid-for media than ever before.
Take, for example, the reinvention of the TV channel UKTV G2 as Dave - what more cost-effective approach than to get other people or channels to do your marketing for you for free? The name and the supporting campaign created a distinctive identity and personality for what was previously another space on the expanding electronic programming guide. Success was achieved without major changes to content or programming strategy. Launch PR and the talkability effects of the campaign rendered a larger media spend redundant.
Good husbandry of limited creative resources and media spend is the more familiar story in the Small Budget category. The fashion brand Radley's private equity ownership wanted rapid growth over three years. An adspend of £800,000 delivered this with added benefits, not least a sales increase of almost two-and-a-half times. Broader effects on company valuation and the subsequent sale of the Radley brand meant the campaign paid for itself five times over. Thus the notoriously short-term world of fashion brings us new learning about the broader value of communications.
The Long And The Short Of success
Now more than ever, the long-term perspective will be seen as a frivolous luxury without short-term success. But 2008's winners prove, once more, that short-term and long-term effects do not belong to discrete or mutually exclusive communications activities.
The importance of long-term effects for brands is now underpinned by evidence from neuroscience that our decision-making processes are driven by "hard-wired memories". Brands become shorthands for decision-making over time through repetition and consistent storytelling. This is what leads to both immediate and long-term sales. Business success is dependent on both, and the most efficient way to do this is to create impacts that endure by getting into people's brains and staying there.
The Audi, Johnnie Walker, Dove, and Home Office cases show the power of ideas and long-term communications campaigns to deliver on this. Two further 2008 examples are worthy of specific mention: Virgin Atlantic, as an exemplar of long-term brand-building; and Motorola for its proof of advertising's long-term benefits relative to other marketing activity.
Many recently commenced campaigns featured in 2008, such as Morrisons and KFC, have the mark of long-term potential, creating enduring brand meaning while simultaneously delivering short-term sales imperatives.
- Neil Dawson is a co-founder of Hurrell Moseley Dawson & Grimmer and the convenor of judges at the IPA Effectiveness Awards 2008.
IPA EFFECTIVENESS WINNERS 2008
Bartle Bogle Hegarty for Johnnie Walker "Keep walking"
Effectiveness Company of the Year
Bartle Bogle Hegarty
BBH for Johnnie Walker "Keep walking"
BBH for KFC "Finger lickin' good"
RKCR/Y&R and The Home Office for "Cutting the cost of crime"
Red Bee Media and UKTV for Dave rebrand
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO for Sainsbury's "Try something new today"
- For a full list of winners and details on individual entries, visit brandrepublic.com/campaign/ipaeffectiveness.