I read that consumers are now firmly in control. Increasingly affluent, ad-literate, techno-savvy, streetwise and apathetic, they ruthlessly edit our precious brand messages and propositions into and out of their mental in-boxes at whim. They by-pass our careful approaches and, instead, create their own ways of applauding or slating brands.
And that's not the only thing against us. Retailer and distributor power knows no bounds. We have no control over the (increasingly unpredictable) weather. The views of Big Brother are more respected than those of the Government. And media inflation ensures the scale of our paid-for messages diminishes annually.
Against these obstacles, what can our words, pictures and music possibly achieve?
Well, between them, the winners of 2007's IPA Effectiveness Awards have reduced urban gun crime, ensured life after death, resisted Tesco, excited a generation that doesn't care, changed the way people elect to receive their benefit payments, revitalised a dormant drinks category, persuaded people to shop drug dealers, encouraged people to eat more fibre for breakfast and outsmarted competitors using a tenth of their spend.
Judges in this year's competition found it inspiring to be reminded of what the communication tools at our disposal are capable of.
So how exactly were the winners able to yield such influence? And what pointers can we take from them about the prospects for our industry and, indeed, future awards?
Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, together with MediaCom and its client The Metropolitan Police, tackled this thorny challenge by permeating London's young black communities to dispel the glamour and bravado associated with gun ownership. They overcame the climate of fear and suspicion and persuaded kids not to carry guns and members of the community to report those who do.
The multi-layered approach used three simple words: "Stop the guns." These were given poignancy and power by articulating four thought-provoking ideas: the consequences of carrying a gun are distinctly uncool; a single gunshot impacts on many people; phones are more powerful than guns; and doing nothing makes you as guilty as someone carrying a gun.
What made these ideas more powerful was how they were embedded into the world of the 14-24-year-old streetwise black metropolitan males - The Voice, New Nation, MySpace, Hip Hop Connection, Vibe, YouTube, black barbershops, Channel U and so on.
As an illustration of how this approach managed to engage this most difficult of audiences, 78,000 people listened to a music track -Badman - that had formed the soundtrack to a viral campaign, seeded on YouTube. Thousands downloaded the track as a ringtone and 600 even wrote a fifth verse for the song in a Kiss FM competition.
More than 400,000 people have watched the video and seen the emotional torment of a young black kid who accidentally shoots an innocent bystander.
But this campaign didn't just engage. It made people think, shifted perceptions, prompted them to come forward with actionable information and helped the Metropolitan Police increase its detection rate, reducing gun crime to the lowest level since 2001.
I said it would be hard to find a more difficult task, but The Union and the Scottish Executive found it. Their challenge was to ask people to donate their vital organs for transplant after death. No wonder 91 per cent were in favour, but only 23 per cent registered as donors.
The Scottish Executive and The Union tackled this problem with PR and advertising working cleverly together in unison. They focused on provoking action, not just intention, by contrasting the worst and best consequences of organ donation.
The consequences of inaction was portrayed as the death of a stranger, shown staring innocently out of the page at us. The result of taking action was the gift of life.
The Union's approach worked because it compelled the audience to choose an outcome. Not making a decision was not an option - procrastinating was effectively a decision to let Jill die. As a result, Scotland recorded a 33 per cent increase in organ donor registrations, versus 6.5 per cent in England where the campaign didn't run.
There were more commercial winners in the awards, too. Much attention will go to the likes of Waitrose, Coca-Cola and Magners.
At the other end of the spectrum, Aqua Ultima pulled off a gutsy reversal of fortune with a TV campaign costing just £120,000. This was one of several cases that challenged the doctrine of the death of TV and rise new media.
The prejudice that TV equals big budgets was roundly discredited, with one case making a £40,000 TV investment (production included) pay for itself handsomely. Indeed, as these awards are uniquely driven by financial accountability, it is worth noting that 16 of the 18 winners used TV advertising. The digital revolution was visible only in one or two cases and in a form that more resembled evolution.
E4 won Best Use Of Media for, among other things, using MySpace for the launch of Skins. Bringing the show's characters to life helped build a community of advocates in the weeks leading up to transmission date.
However, it was 4Creative's analysis of conventional attention-driving advertising (posters and on-air trailers) that made their case most convincing. It is interesting to observe that an online competition drew 656 responses, with no indication of how many of these went on to become viewers, whereas each viewing of the on-air trailer was shown to add 163,000 to the first week's viewing figures.
As we continue to be enthused by the engagement and accountability offered by digital channels, it is important that entrants in future awards develop the tools and the case law to prove that these forms of communication are more than just entertainment, but really do click in sales terms.
This year's crop also shed light on the state of the art in integrative advertising. Pretty much every conceivable degree of media co-ordination was represented among the winners, from the straightforward single media blitz to the carefully harmonised multi-channel approach.
The judges were clear that a good integrated approach could just as easily deploy one line of attack as several. As it happens, the entrants that won the highest accolades happened to be closer to the latter camp. Whether that says more about the effectiveness of multi-channel approaches or the judging of these awards is unclear. It remains unclear because the science of disentangling integrated effects remains relatively undeveloped. Most entrant papers this year took the approach that everything worked really well together and left it at that. This is surely another area for the breakthroughs in future years.
The final conclusion that I draw from the allocation of the prizes is that two things count in these awards. Proving how well you did, and showing how you did it. These days the two are becoming increasingly interlinked, making these awards a fascinating litmus test of what is actually happening and working out there.
To paraphrase a popular football saying, the real winner of the 2007 IPA Effectiveness Awards is the communications industry. The evidence proves that when deployed in engaging ways, our words, pictures and music are effectively able to achieve almost anything.
- Richard Storey is the chief strategy officer at M&C Saatchi and convenor of the judges for the 2007 Advertising Effectiveness Awards.