Getting back to the big idea

The winners of the IPA Effectiveness Awards highlight the value of meaningful consumer insight at a time when people are re-evaluating their life choices, Marie Oldham writes.

Do you know anyone who won a gold, silver or bronze at this year's IPA Effectiveness Awards? Following years of training, months of commitment and weeks of rewrites, 65 authors achieved their goal - they got their paper signed off and entered.

A bit like Team GB's performance at London 2012, this was a record-breaking year - 35 of the 65 converted to an award, and 14 were deemed good enough for gold (the most golds issued in 31 years of the awards).

Did we have a Jonnie Peacock or a Jessica Ennis among the entries? You can choose from BT, Walkers, British Gas, Dove, Cadbury, The National Lottery, McDonald's, John Lewis and Snickers, to name a few - certainly the cream of the crop.

So what can you learn from all this blood, sweat and tears? I would suggest the following three themes.

1. Big, insightful ideas lie at the heart of effectiveness

The IPA goes to great lengths to ensure that the Effectiveness Awards dig far deeper than the creative execution of an idea to judge success, looking to consumer insight as one of the seven criteria any winning paper has to deliver against.

The judges agreed that those papers that really got to grips with the world of the modern consumer, and converted meaningful insight into a cohesive communications idea, were the ones that stood out from the pack.

Post-credit crunch, consumers are driving the re-emergence of family values and a focus on local businesses. They are creating support networks to inform everything from parenting styles and holiday destinations to best-value car insurance.

Reality TV has moved on from Big Brother. We now want to see personal histories unfold on Who Do You Think You Are?. We are inspired by Mo Farah's story, and by John Bishop's tears as he cycled for Sport Relief, which drew an audience of six million and 391,000 Facebook "likes".

Anyone who witnessed the singing volunteers at the Olympics, or the brush-toting residents of London who cleaned up after the previous summer's riots, can see that Great Britain is no longer the home of the stiff upper lip. Equally, we are starting to realise that the spend, spend, spend years of the 80s and 90s may have clouded our view of what's important - that wanting your children to succeed is a deeper human motivation than wanting the most expensive car on your street.

Successful communications campaigns often tap into the zeitgeist to reflect the emerging trends and feelings of the moment, positioning brands as relevant and "for people like me". However, genuinely transformative ideas tap into something much deeper.

Agencies and clients that understand that human beings are driven by powerful needs such as belonging, conviviality, security, recognition and vitality can gain deeper insight from which to build ownable territories.

The strongest entrants to this year's awards immediately demonstrated to the judges that they not only understood what makes human beings tick, but also that times have changed and that, for many audiences, the recession has offered a much-needed chance to reassess lifestyle choices.

The Grand Prix-winning John Lewis campaign certainly delved deep into our emotional lives and the world beyond price to remind people of the role of the brand at life-defining moments - and of the emotion imbued in many of the purchases we make.

The campaign succeeded not through the power of advertising weight (it was outspent by many competing brands), but through the power of emotion. In addition to personal yet universal storylines, longer spots and anthemic music were used to draw consumers into each film and engage them in a rich experience. Viewers were inspired to talk about the campaign face to face and online, to share the ads widely and to let staff know what they felt when they went in-store.

The British Gas campaign more overtly tapped into the belief that, within our homes, we strive to create a world of warmth and safety, and that trust is a defining KPI, even for service and utility brands. In a category defined by negative press, price rises, confusion and increased competition, the unifying idea and the conversion of rational product message into emotional consumer benefit is starting to win through for the company.

The Nikon paper is also worth a read as an example of human understanding completely changing the direction of a brand.

The "I am" insight offers the brand a strong platform from which to tap into the image culture emerging via our phones, laptops and tablets - a great example of technology facilitating our deep-seated human need to define our lives by creating and capturing happy memories in forms that we can share, display in our physical world and revisit when we need a boost (even cave-dwellers recorded their lives in pictures).

Interestingly, different needs come to the fore as we move through life. This is demonstrated by the paper for The Art Fund, a brand that for too long depended on older people's accomplishment and philanthropy, but is now getting to grips with the social needs of younger consumers in order to attract new members.

2. New communications models are finally bearing fruit

Previous convenors of these awards have hoped to see the rich, multichannel world we live in reflected in the communications executed for clients. Consumers have already integrated the digital platforms they use, intermingling entertainment and socialising across TV, Twitter and Facebook. Shopping, too, is rapidly becoming a multiplatform activity, with consumers often being exposed to a combination of media - broadcast, web and mobile - as well as making retail visits, before making a purchase decision.

Do the 2012 entries demonstrate that we are delivering genuinely cross-platform ideas? Are we leveraging social chatter, multi-screening and content sharing for the benefit of our clients? Most importantly, can we measure the effectiveness of these new channels and demonstrate a return on investment? I would suggest that we are not there yet, but we have made huge progress.

Campaigns such as the Metropolitan Police's "who killed Deon?" - to raise awareness among young people of the issues around knife crime - got to grips with the role of digital as a medium for video and a facilitator of dialogue with young audiences. One of the really powerful elements was the use of managed communities to maximise engagement and campaign understanding. This paper also shows real progress in how we measure consumer-centric campaigns.

Yorkshire Tea is also a powerful demonstration of a brand that opened itself up a little to the digital consumer and allowed its campaign to be driven organically from consumer needs. However, as the brand sought to amplify and leverage this idea to achieve greater results, TV was the channel to take the activity to the next level.

Multimedia presence and consumer engagement are often the recipe for success, and there is no denying that TV plays a large part in that. What this year's entries show in spades is the power of TV in creating fame - and that talkability is even more powerful when TV is integrated with emerging channels.

However, as Martin Weigel of Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam comments in the book to accompany this year's awards (published next year), we might do well to change our approach to TV.

Rather than positioning it as being the primary vehicle that we "blow out" in secondary channels, we might think about TV as: signposting, directing people to other destinations and interactions; ignition, for a longer experience or programme; fuel, intensifying interest in content experienced elsewhere; and explainer, elaborating the purpose or motivations behind other interactions.

We can also get more specific about the contribution and role of digital as: propagating, giving people things to share; involving, giving people things to do; informing, giving people resources that answer questions; amplifying, giving people things to explore further; and fulfilling, turning interest into purchase.

3. New channels can provide new measurement tools

Above and beyond the ability of emerging channels and platforms to bring us closer to consumers and provide communications ideas with enormous potential for rich engagement, we should look to these channels to provide new measurement tools.

With live communities from Mumsnet to Zeebox, brand managers can see on a minute-by-minute basis what consumers are saying about their brand. Indeed, consumer sentiment can be "scraped" from across the web and used in conjunction with classic brand tools such as tracking and sales to plot the consumer journey.

Our actions, views and intentions are increasingly sedimented in digital data. Search terms, Twitter, Facebook posts, blogs and product reviews all have the potential to uncover the ways we are reacting to communications.

So, for instance, share of search or position in natural search results are indicators of salience: positive and negative sentiment can be tracked and overlaid with communication weight; likes and retweets can be forms of endorsement and recommendation. A good example from this year's entries is the Singapore anti-smoking campaign, which used sentiment analysis to show how online conversation became more disposed to quitting.

Digital media might be the most measurable, but it is also the easiest to misinterpret. While its interactivity - constantly asking people to make decisions - creates many useful metrics, this can also make it difficult to understand the influences behind these decisions. Unpicking cause and effect in digital media is riddled with nuance.

The most common mistake in digital measurement is to simply quote the number of fans, views, clicks or page impressions. Size always needs a comparison, if not always a yardstick. So, the expected number of fans will depend systematically on the category, the strength and size of the brand, the country, the target audience and so on - rarely seen in current campaign measurement. Traditional research has known this for years and has sophisticated ways of creating norms, taking into account factors such as brand size. Digital benchmarks need to do the same.

We are also quite used to the idea that the online or Twitter population is different from the general population (although this is changing rapidly). We know that Facebook brand fans are likely to be drawn from the most loyal consumers, so the value of a fan (three times the average consumer, say) tells you very little about the effect of your campaign on this fan or the value of creating new fans.

However, the deeper problem is that behaviour online and exposure to marketing are often driven by intent - the more I want to buy a product, the more likely I am to see related media about it. If I intend to buy a Canon camera from Amazon, I am more likely to use Canon-related search words, to see Canon display ads (particularly with retargeting) and even to be a fan of Canon's Facebook page. But none of this has actually influenced my decision to buy.

This "selection bias" matters a lot. In a recent and thorough study, it was found that naive measurement can be biased to the tune of 1,000 per cent. Great care needs to be taken when looking at simple correlations between offline and online metrics. Best practice should include test and control measures wherever possible.

There is so much more that can be achieved and improved on in terms of measurement, especially in the digital space. But if we can continue to root our campaigns in genuine consumer insight and reframe our thinking around the role of multiple channels in delivering integrated campaign ideas, we will all benefit. And, most importantly, we will continue to deliver value to our clients.

It has been a great honour to be the convenor of judges. I would like to thank all the industry and client judges who took part. Each and every judge committed significant time and energy to reading the submitted papers, scoring them, providing written comments and attending the judging days. The discussions were passionate and of a quality befitting these highly respected awards. In return, all the judges remarked on the high quality of the papers and how much they had learnt from the experience.

Beyond deciding the winners and gathering for the awards night, every single entry to these awards has added to the learning in the IPA Databank - and the provision of learning is one of the primary roles of any great institute.

Marie Oldham is the chief strategy officer at MPG Media Contacts and was the convenor of judges for the 2012 IPA Effectiveness Awards. A book to accompany the awards, Adworks 21, will be published early next year.