A view from Maisie McCabe

In search of the true barometer of success

To achieve greatness, you have to at least be able to recognise it. And that's no small challenge - even for our finest creative minds....

What is the measure of a great advertising campaign? Does it matter how many views it gets on YouTube, how much the earned media impressions are worth or whether your parents have heard of it? Or is the acid test whether it makes the hair on the back of a bespectacled bald man’s neck stand up?

I suspect when the industry’s finest creative directors assembled last week to assess the UK ad industry’s best work for the 2016 Campaign Big Awards, many would have been sceptical about how much attention they should pay to metrics such as YouTube completion rates and hashtag mentions. That’s particularly the case for YouTube views, where it’s impossible to separate the precious pearls of earned eyeballs from the gritty paid-for ones.  

But I’m told a more qualitative measure of an ad’s resonance among real people was the subject of intense debate on one particular morning. If work is being discussed around dining tables – messy ones in people’s houses, not polished ones in Jason Atherton restaurants – does that mean it’s good enough to be shortlisted for an award? Not for that reason alone was the view of many in attendance. Yet the Big Awards’ very own Juror Eight argued long and hard.

Not all creative directors believe they know best. Some people think the view of the wider public – our mums, dads and partners – should carry greater weight. After all, as Dave Trott is always telling us, the first job is to get people to notice ads at all. Moreover, it’s hardly as though creative directors’ opinions are always pure. It’s easier to reach consensus if the industry has made up its mind – if Nils Leonard favourited it or the film made Ben Priest salivate in Private View.

We introduced the in-person sessions for the Big Awards last year to enable the judges to have a proper conversation, to put the shortlists into their hands and make sure entries didn’t suffer unjustly from people’s different approaches to scoring out of ten. Feedback so far has suggested it has done all that and more. Niggles about whether work was produced solely with awards in mind are aired and each entry on the shortlist deserves to be there. 

If the industry is biased towards or against some brands, you’d hope talking through the work might peel the prejudice away. Yes, the public doesn’t always know best but – to appropriate David Oglivy – they are not morons either. The real sweet spot has got to be the stuff your school friends share on Facebook and your colleagues applaud at awards dos. Ideally, the chief financial officer would also reference it in their trading statement, but that’s another show altogether.

All in all, we believe the Big Awards judging process means it honours only the very best work coming out of UK agencies. With such a great and varied shortlist, I hope to see many of you on the big night.