In a classic experiment by the psychologists Timothy Wilson and Richard Nesbitt, women given four pairs of pantyhose to examine were found overwhelmingly to prefer the pair on the right of the display - even though all four pairs were identical. This may well be the reason I ended up as the winner of the IPA's Convenors' Fight Club event on 9 February, because I was on the extreme right of the six contestants and in each round was last to speak. Who knows?
All contestants were previous convenors of the IPA Advertising Effectiveness Awards, each from a different year ranging from 1988 to 2010, and had been allocated a past winning paper and briefed to argue its merits against the other five.
The event was given a little showbiz glamour by having us dressed up as if we were entering a boxing match. Hamish Pringle, the director-general of the IPA, looked in his element as a bow-tied referee, as he loudly announced each of us entering in coloured dressing gowns to the music from Rocky.
Chris Baker, a partner at Bacon Strategy & Research, for Tesco; Richard Storey, the chief strategy officer of M&C Saatchi, for Orange; Laurence Green, the chairman of Fallon, for PG Tips; Andy Nairn, the executive planning director of MCBD, for BMW; and David Golding, a founding partner of Adam & Eve, for O2.
I had to fight for Stella Artois, a gold winner in 2000, but the only paper of the six not to have won the Grand Prix. It wasn't a case I knew that well, and when I read it I was amazed just how much this brand had grown, driven by advertising. In 1980, it sold 100,000 barrels a year; in 1990, 500,000, and by 2000, this had reached two million - a twentyfold increase in as many years.
All this was achieved without changing the product or the design, while maintaining a premium price and high margin. So my first argument was that this case could not be matched as an example of longterm, profitable growth. Given the adversarial nature of the event, I chose, quite unfairly, but brutally, to pour as much scorn as I could on the other papers. I'm glad that in the last round I had the chance to recant on this, acknowledging that, in reality, all cases were well-deserved winners.
In round one, we were allowed three minutes each, curtailed ruthlessly by a bell. Some speakers were eloquent and learned, while others - especially Nairn - were extremely funny. I was glad I chose not to use PowerPoint in the limited time available. After we had all spoken, the large audience, about 140-strong, voted with coloured cards for one fighter to be ejected. First to bite the dust was Baker and Tesco. In the next two rounds we had two minutes each, and Storey and then Green were next to be chopped. At this point, I suspect, none of the three survivors was quite sure what he was going to say next: certainly I wasn't. On the spur of the moment, I picked up the microphone and invited the audience to hum along with me to Verdi's Force Of Destiny overture, aka the Stella Artois tune. Maybe it served to remind us all what a very classy campaign this was. At any rate, it seemed to get me through to the final showdown with this year's convenor, Golding.
Finally, I couldn't think what to say, except that my rubbishing of the other papers had all been completely made up, but that the Stella case still deserved to be better known than it was. And on this note, I somehow ended up with a lovely trophy of model boxing gloves, and the honour of writing this piece for Campaign.
So do I really think Stella Artois is the most significant Effectiveness paper of the past 30 years? I can't honestly claim that, but then I wouldn't want to for any single paper. What I do think is that the Stella case deserves more attention than it has probably had (there are actually four papers, from 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004, each telling part of the story).
It shows dramatically how, by creating strong consumer demand for a brand, people will pay more for it, which means more sales and more profits for retailers and publicans - so that distribution, in turn, goes up and up. Hence, spectacular brand growth, which didn't end in 2000. By 2004 it was at 3.5 million barrels.
It's clear that the main engine of this demand was advertising, with heavyweight press in the 80s, followed by the well-known commercials through the 90s. Both campaigns are worth studying, for the way they deliberately avoid any of the standard conventions of lager advertising, while maintaining an aura of class and exclusivity, even as the brand becomes more popular - and for the long-term consistency of its strategy and execution.
And did the evening achieve anything? Well, the Fight Club concept, the artificially adversarial set-up, all the razzmatazz with the dressing gowns and the music, clearly helped the IPA to draw a large crowd on a freezing night - making what might have been rather a dry event pass, I hope, pleasantly. But its real aim was to remind the audience, as it certainly reminded me, of the extraordinary wealth of information and learning that lies in the 900-plus published cases of the Effectiveness Awards.
Not only do these prove that advertising works, but each of them shows us something we can learn from that particular experience. And together they represent a collective body of advertising that creates profitable growth, from which we can deduce general lessons about how successful campaigns work and what you can do to create one. If the evening helped the IPA achieve that goal, it was well worth putting on a dressing gown for.
Paul Feldwick is a consultant at the IPA
Campaigns in the 'ring'
PG Tips (BMP DDB Needham, 1990): The first IPA paper that clearly demonstrated "longer and broader effects" - how the chimps campaign maintained PG Tips' brand share and price premium in the highly competitive UK tea market through 35 years.
BMW (WCRS, 1994): From 1979 onwards, the "Ultimate Driving Machine" campaign trebled sales while improving the brand's exclusive image and maintaining prices.
Orange (WCRS, 1996): Launched in 1994, Orange had become the category leader by 1996 when it became a public company. This paper broke new ground in showing the actual brand value created by advertising, using discounted cash-flow forecasting.
Stella Artois (Lowe Lintas, 2000): The lager brand grew dramatically over 20 years driven by a campaign that stressed its high price and quality.
Tesco (Lowe Lintas, 2000): During the 90s, Tesco increased its UK share from 9 per cent to 15 per cent and took over Sainsbury's role as "thought leader" in grocery retailing with the "every little helps" campaign. Probably the most quoted IPA paper in business schools.
O2 (VCCP, 2004): When Cellnet was sold by BT and rebranded in 2002, few expected it to flourish. But by 2004 it had grown to be the strongest brand in the UK market, through a highly consistent and integrated campaign.