Key marketing lessons from the IPA Effectiveness Awards

Seven key themes have emerged from a record submissions year for the 2016 IPA Effectiveness Awards, from people power to tailored targeting.

Key marketing lessons from the IPA Effectiveness Awards

Of course it’s great to win awards. And there’s none more sought-after than an IPA Effectiveness Award. It is hard-won, as every author will testify to. It involves painstaking work to isolate and quantify the contributions of communications to business success, often scuppered by changes in data reporting or by client confidentiality. 

Each one of the 39 cases honoured last night (Wednesday) is a worthy winner. Each has passed the scrutiny of world-leading client, industry and technical judges, and deserves its place in the effectiveness "hall of fame". The cases encompass a range of categories and countries. They cover different business challenges and reflect the many roles communications can play in solving them. The highest number of entries received in 20 years shows just how seriously our industry now takes the business of effectiveness. 

But to think of these stories merely in terms of awards demeans their true purpose. The IPA database now contains more than 1,400 cases spanning more than 25 years and is a treasure trove of learning for all who choose to access it. These new cases add to our collective knowledge of how and why communications work and enable the publication of evidence-based works such as The Long and the Short of It and Selling Creativity Short, both written by Les Binet and Peter Field.

Looking at this year’s cases as a body of work enables us to spot any emergent trends, patterns and themes, and seven have been identified. These will be published in Advertising Works 23, available from Friday. My thanks go to the authors (Jonathan Allan, Neil Godber, Laurence Green, Alison Hoad, Tom Knox, Alex Lewis and Marie Oldham), who gave up considerable time to research and write it. I believe their contributions will provide valuable reference in the years to come. 

So to touch on each theme briefly here…

The commercial value of purpose

A number of papers added to the existing body of evidence that there is commercial value in having a social purpose, provided it is truly embedded in the brand, committed to over the long term and delivers real change (as opposed to being stuck on top as a marketing campaign). Dove by Ogilvy & Mather remains the shining light in this field, continuing to find new ways to build women’s self-esteem by celebrating "real beauty" while driving product sales.

People power

In a world of increasing media fragmentation, it was refreshing to read about brands that succeeded in using people as their most powerful media. Save the Children’s "Christmas Jumper Day" campaign by Adam & Eve/DDB is now in its fourth year. Donations in 2014 topped £4m, suggesting that four million people took part – wearing some fairly ghastly knitwear to do so! This kind of idea highlights people’s desire to get involved and make an impact on the world in which they live, especially when it is made both fun and easy for them.

Making small successful

The IPA Effectiveness Awards have long provided inspiration for any advertiser with a small budget. This year’s papers are no exception, with several cases demonstrating the disproportionate return the "little guys" can achieve if their limited resources are marshalled wisely and deployed imaginatively.

There are lessons from cases such as Art Fund by 101 (using product as advertising), Wall’s by Adam & Eve/DDB (think laterally about how you carve up your budget),  Narellan Pools by Affinity (make sacrifices and focus your spend on a very specific time period) and The Economist by Proximity and UM London (constantly sharpen and optimise your creative content).  

This theme does, however, come with a health warning. Sales growth still correlates best to excess share of voice (as Binet and Field found), and paid-for media continues to be the best guarantor of this share of voice.

A ‘test and learn’ mindset

Several brands on this year’s shortlist approached their communications with a "test and learn" mindset, perhaps in response to the more complex media and technology landscape we find ourselves in.

Brands such as The Economist, Narellan Pools and Plusnet by Karmarama and Maxus built experiments into their activities so that they could learn, adapt and optimise their communications. Importantly, these brands demonstrated total commitment to this approach, believing the benefits would be reaped over the longer term. Marginal gains take time and patience to accumulate – not always easy when there is a tendency for people to want instant results.

The benefits of tailored targeting

People who work in our profession like to defy conventional wisdom, and some of this year’s papers provided evidence that countered one of Byron Sharp’s "rules for growth" – that mass targeting is needed to grow a brand.

In fact, 19 of the 39 shortlisted papers claimed to be targeting specific audiences rather than the majority. 

Eurotunnel by OMD UK built a customer segmentation model that identified the most valuable groups and then communicated with each in a bespoke manner, highlighting distinct brand benefits to each segment. The Economist put targeting a specific group (the "intellectually curious") at the heart of its drive to increase subscriptions. Pepsi Max by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO focused on millennials to secure the future of the brand, setting up a YouTube channel and creating content with the goal of becoming a brand that entertains its audience, not just sells to them.  

Taking a longer view

As the recent Selling Creativity Short report highlighted, short-termism and declining budgets have led to a quadrupling of short-term campaigns at the expense of longer-term brand-building. And this has taken place despite the overwhelming evidence that the most potent marketing cocktail is creativity invested in consistently over the long term. 

Good news, then, that this year’s crop of IPA papers contained some brilliant longer-term successes, including Guinness by AMV, Stoptober by 23red and MEC, and John Lewis by Adam & Eve/DDB and Manning Gottlieb OMD. The Guinness case tells an honest tale about not getting everything right first time. But, rather than start again from scratch, it stuck with the Made of More platform, learned and adjusted as it went and, as a consequence, the idea has gone from strength to strength. Taking a longer view can require grit and determination, and is sometimes harder to do than ripping it up and starting again.

Building customer experience

And, finally, a theme emerged around the importance of product and service innovation to deliver an enhanced customer experience. Savvier consumers with information at their fingertips meant the gap between a brand’s promise and the reality they experience has to close.

In fact, the power of communications to build "unrealistic aspirations" is being downgraded by many brands in favour of re-engineering their products and services. And, for many, there will no longer be a need to augment a product or service with emotional value – companies will simply need to be more useful and better.  

This raises questions about what an agency is for, and it was heartening to see entries that show imaginative solutions to business challenges that go beyond conventional communications. Adam & Eve/DDB’s campaign for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles reshaped the entire business around customers’ needs, shifting perceptions of the brand from being a  van manufacturer to a service partner
for small businesses. Grey London launched Volvo LifePaint, a glow-in-the-dark paint to ensure cyclists would be seen at night, as a way to reinforce the brand’s key value of safety. 

Volvo promoted its key value of safety with LifePaint

So there you have it. Seven themes from 39 papers, all with the potential to inspire ever-more creative ways to achieve effectiveness. None of the papers would have been possible without the blood, sweat and tears of the authors. So, on behalf of the IPA, I thank them, congratulate them and urge you to read as many of these exemplary case studies as you can. 

Bridget Angear is the convenor of judges at the 2016 IPA Effectiveness Awards and joint chief strategy officer at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

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