The advertising world’s toughest test of "work that works" is upon us. This year’s IPA Effectiveness Awards winners will be announced shortly and they can’t come soon enough.
Each one is an island of copperbottomed proof in a sea of what Bob Hoffman might call "effectiveness baloney".
As an author, judge and convenor of the judges over the years, I know how tough it is to craft 4,000 words of bulletproof advocacy of advertising payback: the kind that can survive what amounts to four rounds of judging. (Both the shortlisting and final jury judge each paper privately, then meet to thrash out any differences and/or doubts.)
Believe me, when you have seen the likes of Lucky Generals’ Andy Nairn and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R’s Alison Hoad stripping the flesh off even the most plausible advertising case study before proceeding to devour its bones, it’s amazing that any papers are left standing.
But I’ve also seen how worthwhile the exercise is for everyone concerned. Authors and agencies quite rightfully enjoy their moment in the sun. They get to enjoy the sweetest of tastes: the vanity of an advertising award won by establishing the sanity of profitable return for their paymasters.
At Fallon, until that point held in affection by fellow creative villagers only, our IPA gold for Skoda put us on the map as a shop that wrote businesschanging work. 101’s silver for the launch of the National Art Pass after only a year in business remains an agency point of pride five years on. (We are back for more this year in a field that features too few of our independent friends and rivals.)
Brand owners are just as thrilled to win and to learn along the way that their partners are genuinely commercially literate.
Their agency and campaign choices stand vindicated, their marketing efforts empirically proven to be investment rather than cost. On the night itself, then, our industry stands at its tallest: as a business partner of the highest commercial order, flying at an altitude we too rarely achieve.
Better still, and even as the last Ubers are leaving the Hilton, the winners – and the learnings we draw from them – pass into the public domain as best practice. Rolled up into the IPA’s Databank – the world’s single most authoritative effectiveness data set – they become fresh raw material for analysis and publications, such as The Long and the Short of It, that keep us all on the straight and narrow.
So while agency advancement is unapologetically at play, there’s also a noble beauty to the IPA Awards. The winners establish brute causality in an industry bloated with opinion and prejudice.
They help us distinguish the signal from the noise. In a world of big data, fragmented media and millions of moving marketing parts, it’s more critical than ever that we attempt to do so because right now there’s a lot of lazy correlation being called out as cause and effect.
The historian EH Carr liked to lampoon his peers’ fascination with "the accidental and the incidental" by telling the story of Robinson. He goes out to buy cigarettes one night and is killed by a car with defective brakes driven by a drunk driver, Jones, on a sharp bend of the road.
Carr encouraged his students to distinguish between the real causes of the accident (Jones’ defective brakes, his drinkdriving and the poor road design) from the incidental (Robinson’s need for a fag).
In a world where we are too quick to celebrate the accidental and the incidental – the assumptive and often bogus links between marketing activity and brand performance – the IPA Awards’ focus on "the real" is an overdue corrective.
As we stare at the work we are doing, and the stories we tell ourselves as an industry, these awards ask: can you tell your Jones from your Robinson?
Laurence Green is the founding partner of 101.