Is effectiveness becoming harder to demonstrate, when it is most needed?
A view from Gurdeep Puri

Is effectiveness becoming harder to demonstrate, when it is most needed?

The complexity that the industry is facing across all quarters is making it much harder to demonstrate the value of what marketing and its communications stakeholders produce.

At this year’s Euro Effie awards, McCann’s "Kevin the carrot" campaign for Aldi has won the Euro Effie Grand Prix. The submission and creative scored the highest across the two rounds of judging.

Grey Europe has won the coveted agency of the year trophy, having won the accolade multiple times in the last few years.

The Euro Effies have enjoyed consecutive years of growth, with 2017 surpassing last year’s record number of entries from across Europe. The quality of the entries had also improved at the top end, with several submissions vying for a prize in the second-round judging. Alexander Schlaubitz, vice-president marketing at Lufthansa, was this year’s chair of the jury. There were also golds awarded to the Icelandair campaign from The Brooklyn Brothers, Ogilvy UK’s work for Philips OneBlade and  Amnesty International’s campaign from DDB Poland.

Schlaubitz thought both the work and the submissions were more robust than the last time he had the honour of judging the Euro Effies, several years ago.

On "Kevin the carrot", the chair’s view was that "The Grand Prix this year really stood out for its clarity and ability to establish the causal relationship between the campaign and the economic results it drove. All extraneous factors were cleanly discounted, making the job rather easy for the judges".

Harjot Singh, the EMEA chief strategy officer of McCann, felt that several years of focus and commitment to creative effectiveness by McCann’s brand teams is now paying off.

McCann Europe has seen a revival in its effectiveness fortunes over the last few years. The agency has made a drive towards demonstrating its creative value across its businesses with recent wins at the IPA Effectiveness Awards and across the local Effie programs. The Effie Index now ranks McCann as the most effective agency network in Europe.

There has been an internal focus on really getting to grips with commercial creativity, what Singh defines as the value of agency creativity to the client’s bottom line: "We aim to start the conversation about creativity with the question: what commercial problem have we been asked to solve?" Winning the Grand Prix with Aldi is just a brilliant confirmation to him of the direction the agency is taking in EMEA, the kinds of "higher level" conversations that the agency is having with its clients.

Grey Europe, the Effectiveness Network Agency for 2017, won four golds as well as other prizes for its work for the Bolia, Bose, The Swedish Tourist Association and Wild Aid brands. The WPP agency last won the network prize in 2015.

Leo Rayman, the chief executive of Grey London, puts the consistency of Grey at demonstrating commercial success of its creative output down to making effectiveness part of the creative development process: "For example, we ask "what’s working?" before we develop new work. That drives effectiveness into the culture and into everyday conversations. It means that effectiveness stories and data rise to the surface, rather than being chased solely in awards season. It’s giving us awards wins, but importantly, awards aren’t really the aim – they’re the outcome of a wider effectiveness culture".

My personal view is that the complexity that the industry is facing across all quarters, from getting to grips with the data overload, to understanding the shift in technology that we are experiencing and the ever-increasing fragmentation within marketing is making it much harder to demonstrate the value of what marketing and its communications stakeholders produce. There are numerous examples of single channel success stories, but it is rare to see cases where one links all the channels and demonstrates the contribution of the entire channel mix. We also need to question the contribution that some of our newer channels are making to client businesses.  

Nick Hirst, head of planning at Adam & Eve/DDB, a senior judge at this year’s Euro Effies, is bang on when he says that we just aren’t good enough as an industry at effectiveness:

"There were a handful of papers that did an extremely good job of isolating the effect of communications and proving a commercial effect, but too many didn’t do one or either of those things. Particularly in a world of increased suspicion around some areas of marketing expenditure, we need to be very clear on how we are delivering commercially. Digital activity, whether film, programmatically delivered direct response or influencer marketing, cannot be an exception.

"More specifically it made me worry about planning - that there is a gap in our craft skills. And possibly that we lack an agreed standard for what effectiveness even is. Hacking together an effectiveness story out of unconvincing or incomplete data is one thing, but too often it felt like authors thought they were demonstrating commercial effect when they weren’t. A few papers got as far as "brand image" improvement and left it there. If we think that constitutes effectiveness, then frankly we don’t deserve to be better represented in boardrooms."

His point about there being a craft skills gap is indeed worrying. I recently spoke to a senior industry strategist who was complaining that many ‘new world’ planners’ idea of strategy was all about strategic execution… not strategic development. So, it seems that despite several brilliant submissions at this year’s Euro Effies, we still have long way to go as an industry towards knowing what creative success really looks like.

Is it important in a creative industry to have a focus on understanding its commercial value? Alex Schlaubitz tries to put it in context from a senior marketer’s perspective "I truly believe that there has never been a greater time to be in marketing. Marketers are capable of seeing, influencing and even managing more touch points than ever; at all of these touchpoints, consumers exhibit their contextual needs. Addressing these by adding real commercial value will offer the opportunity to increase joy of use of the brand and – in many cases – create opportunities for monetisation. The ability to demonstrate tangible and quantifiable creative value in the boardroom is now becoming real and…crucial".

I would argue that demonstrating this value in the boardroom is not only about showing the short-term greenshoots of creativity’s effect, but the longer-term value which is created by organisations investing in, and understanding this value. Leo Rayman seems to agree "We are particularly proud of our long-term cases. The most powerful use of communication is in building a long, irresistible compounding effect – call it brand-building. It builds resilient, predictable, price-resistant business for our clients. And as a hopeful pointer – we read a lot about wicked private equity raiders and the destruction of brands. We in Grey don’t see that. We have some of the world’s toughest private-equity owners in our client roster. And guess what?  They want brands, they want long-term cases. They protect the brand-building budgets. They get it. They see the value in what we do. We just have to prove we’re doing it and keep learning how to do it better."

Despite my increasing worry about how we convince finance and procurement types about our real worth as an industry, I look forward to (hopefully) plenty of learning for marketers and agency professional from the 2018 awards season with the IPA, Cannes and of course, the Euro Effies, vying to produce the best demonstrations of our commercial value.

Gurdeep Puri is a founding partner of The Effectiveness Partnership. He is the Cannes creative effectiveness master, an IPA effectiveness mentor, honorary fellow of the IPA and the Euro Effies effectiveness ambassador.