Close Up: Live Issue/Advertising Effectiveness - Do clients acknowledge that advertising works? - Adland is still divided over Winston Fletcher’s cheeky speech

’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.

’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

with it.



Neither did the IPA’s director of advertising effectiveness, Janet

Hull.



’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outdated because it was obsessed with proving effectiveness rather than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

works.’



Several days later, Fletcher admits that his words annoyed a few

people.



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

know.’



Yet for every expert who feels confident, there is another who

disagrees.



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.



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