’In the interest of drama and to keep us all awake at 8.30 in the
morning, I think Winston might have made it all sound more revolutionary
than it actually was.’ This is the wry observation from Marilyn Baxter,
the chairman of the IPA’s Advertising Effectiveness Committee and a
vice-chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi.
Baxter, in just her third month in the chair, is unflappable in the face
of Winston Fletcher’s remarks to the IPA’s ’It Pays to Advertise’
conference that its awards are ’past their sell-by date’ (Campaign, last
week). It seems she had read the speech beforehand and had no problems
Neither did the IPA’s director of advertising effectiveness, Janet
’We thought his thinking was quite in line with our own,’ she says.
Yet when Fletcher, chairman of Bozell Europe, addressed more than 300
advertising luminaries about the short-comings of their awards, he
stirred up quite a hornets’ nest. He contended that the system was
outdated because it was obsessed with proving effectiveness rather than
levels of effectiveness, adding: ’There isn’t anyone with any nous who
doesn’t believe advertising works. The question is how much it
Several days later, Fletcher admits that his words annoyed a few
He has been criticised for ’playing to the gallery’ and speaking
inappropriately - but he says that the accusations surprise him. ’I’ve
been told that I upset people, but no-one will tell me who or why. I
truly don’t know what the problem is,’ he offers.
The problems over his speech seem to break down into two categories.
The first are his claims that the fight to prove ad effectiveness has
been won. The second are his ideas on how to improve the awards,
including new entry requirements, more emphasis on profitability rather
than sales and a ’rosette’ system of rewards. The second half of his
speech seems to have proved less controversial than the first, perhaps
corroborating Baxter’s comment that his rhetoric made things sound more
radical than they were.
Yet there is no doubt that on this first point at least, Fletcher hit a
raw nerve. After 18 years of the awards, Fletcher is perhaps entitled to
suggest that the case for advertising has been won. Baxter certainly
thinks it has: ’As a truism, yes, advertising is effective because it
changes things. It prompts people to buy and tells them what they didn’t
Yet for every expert who feels confident, there is another who
Hamish Pringle, vice-chairman and director of marketing at Saatchi and
Saatchi and Baxter’s predecessor at the IPA, points to last year’s
IPA/KPMG survey of 100 finance directors for the Times’s top 1,000
companies. It showed that marketing and advertising would be first to be
cut under financial pressure, while only 58 per cent of respondents
named marketing as ’a nec-essary investment for long-term growth’,
putting it last, behind categories such as training and IT. Pringle
says: ’I don’t agree with Winston’s basic premise. Advertising
effectiveness is still not proven at the highest levels of major
companies, with chief executives and finance directors.’
Nor is the message from clients more positive. Adrian Hosford, the
director of BT’s Talk 21st Century programme and a co-speaker at the
conference last week, personally advocates that clients put 10 per cent
of media spend into researching ad performance, but agrees that many are
yet to be won over. ’Winston’s was an optimistic comment. You can’t be
that simplistic because clearly a lot of clients are still sceptical,’
he says. Whichever side of the fence individuals choose to sit on this
issue, there does at least seem to be a consensus that Fletcher’s
suggestions on evolving the awards were helpful. The only gripe here
comes from people who saw the speech as an attempt to claim ownership of
views that have been in discussion at the IPA for several months.
Baxter says that the Advertising Effectiveness Committee has already set
up a steering group under Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s head of planning, Nick
Kendall, to look at changes to the awards system.
A research programme among clients and agencies, with support from the
Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and the Market Research
Society, is pending.
And Baxter says that she is willing to consider several of Fletcher’s
proposals, admitting that she thinks that his ideas for offering
rosettes could broaden the current definition of ’effective’ ads. She
has sympathy for his observations on measuring profitability rather than
just sales, but adds that insisting on standardised business
school-style case studies might prevent certain papers being submitted,
in case they revealed confidential client information.
Baxter is also keen to open the debate about effectiveness beyond the
issue of awards. She talks about finding new ways of building a more
effectiveness-oriented culture in agencies and about the IPA developing
comparative databases, so that it can assess performance figures of big
advertisers compared with low spenders. ’This is a major review, not
just of the awards, but of advertising effectiveness,’ she says.
Despite the stridency of his delivery, much of the substance of
Fletcher’s message may indeed have come as little surprise to many
people. ’I was pushing at an open door,’ he maintains. ’I think the
awards are wonderful, I just want them to move on.’
Leader, page 27.