CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/AD EFFECTIVENESS; Is advertising as ineffective as planners believe?

Agencies claim demands from clients let good ads down. Emma Hall reports

Agencies claim demands from clients let good ads down. Emma Hall reports

Hands up - are you among the 72 per cent of agency staff who think most

advertising doesn’t work?

Last week, Campaign published the results of a lifestyle survey which

produced this gloomy statistic. The extreme pessimists of the bunch were

the planners, of whom only 17 per cent agreed with the statement: ‘Most

advertising works.’

Jackie Boulter, the head of planning at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO,

admits: ‘Planners can be a cynical bunch. Their lack of faith in

advertising may be a reaction to the fact that a lot of the ads on TV

are not good, and therefore it is assumed that they can’t work.’

Boulter is critical of the attitude of some creatives who are more

concerned that their work wins awards than motivates the consumer.

However, Graham Fink, a commercials director and the president of D&AD,

retaliates on behalf of creatives: ‘A lot of ideas get watered down by

research, and by the time an ad gets on air, the execution is only half

as good as the original concept.’

Les Stern, the deputy chairman of Bates Dorland, and a planner by trade,

dismisses this attitude. He says: ‘I have seen as much bad advertising

that has not been researched as I have seen good advertising that has.’

In defence of their poor opinion of the effectiveness of advertising,

many senior planners say that the problems arise when clients and

agencies don’t discuss exactly what they expect a campaign to achieve at

the outset.

The same campaign can be deemed to have succeeded or failed depending on

the criteria by which it is judged. Defending a brand’s market share and

maintaining, rather than building, sales, can be a huge achievement in a

dramatically competitive environment. Alternatively, in certain

circumstances, a product may perform sensationally despite ineffectual

advertising or even without any advertising at all.

Stern explains: ‘At any one time, there are many factors working on a

brand’s commercial performance.’

Nigel Jones, the head of account planning at BMP DDB, rejects the notion

that all ads are designed to sell. He says: ‘Clients sometimes expect

ads to affect sales directly, but a lot of advertising is strategically

planned to affect other factors first.’

A recent campaign by BMP for Alliance and Leicester mortgages merely

asked home buyers to visit a branch of the building society before

making any decisions. It was designed specifically to change behaviour

rather than directly flog mortgages.

Clients often hope advertising will be a panacea for all their marketing

ills, and Simon Clemmow, the planning director of Simons Palmer Clemmow

Johnson, insists agencies must sometimes take the blame for exaggerating

the possibilities of advertising. ‘Agencies can make unsupportable

promises in the heat of new-business pitches,’ he suggests.

Clemmow also identifies the increasing difficulty of separating

advertising from the rest of the marketing mix when judging success or

failure. He would like to see the introduction of marketing

effectiveness awards to replace the advertising effectiveness awards.

The problem is also recognised by Stern, who says: ‘You only have to

look at the tiny number of submissions to the advertising effectiveness

awards compared with the huge number of advertised brands to see how

difficult it must be to prove and isolate effective campaigns.’

Rapidly fragmenting media, plus an increased reliance on PR to maximise

spend, as well as competition for budgets with direct marketing, have

exacerbated the problem.

Mark Wnek, the executive creative director of Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper,

believes there has been an enormous change in terms of what people

expect advertising to achieve. He says: ‘We are coming out of the world

of the unique selling proposition and the single commercial channel.

What we do is built around that false world, and we must come to terms

with the fact that consumers are now bombarded by so much advertising,

that to have an effect our work has to make an impact on the whole


Stern believes only a very brave person would claim that most

advertising works. But he suspects most planners responding to the

Campaign survey would assert that the majority of their own efforts are

successful. ‘It is like asking people if they’ve been corrupted or

depraved by porn. They all say that they themselves haven’t, but they

know someone who has.’

Wnek is not surprised by the cynicism of his planning colleagues. He

says: ‘Planners often work in isolation, and treat advertising as a

laboratory experiment, in which case they can never have as much

influence on the entire process as they would like.’

Wnek offers the solution: ‘Planners should be brought out of their boxes

and made more a part of the process as a whole.’

Boulter, on the other hand, suggests that disappointment in

advertising’s effectiveness could be kept at bay by agreeing with the

client up front, before the creative brief is written, whether a

campaign should aim to work on sales, attitudes, loyal existing

customers, or recruitment of new customers.

She concedes: ‘Sometimes an agency doesn’t want to grasp the nettle of

difficult research findings, and insists on carrying on with a campaign,

even when it obviously needs to be changed.’

Predictably, planners still have great faith in the powers of research.

It is clients, they claim, who are more likely to test ideas to

destruction. Boulter, who also has great respect for the creative idea,

adds: ‘Planners know how careful you have to be with the idea, and that

it is worth its weight in gold.’

As so often, communication is the key, and clients must contribute by

putting a stop to sloppy briefings. Clear objectives, a rigorously

defined creative strategy and universally agreed criteria for

effectiveness should result in ads that really work.

Stern, who works on the Safeway account at Bates, points out:

‘Retailers, in particular, are notoriously stringent in their cost

control, yet above-the-line adspend by the major supermarkets is

rocketing. So it looks like advertising must work.’


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