What do this year’s IPA Effectiveness Awards finalists tell us about what advertising can do for brands?
The film industry has the BAFTAs. The plumbing supplies industry has the Plumbing Supplies Industry Awards. And the advertising industry has the IPA Effectiveness Awards - probably the most meaningful and therefore prestigious fixture of an awards calendar stuffed to the gunwales with gong-giving orgies.
The IPA Effectiveness Awards are more than just the usual narcissistic exercise in self-affirmation from an industry populated by insecure and needy individuals. They represent a serious attempt by the IPA to create a database of best practice which practitioners - especially planners - can learn from.
For this reason, each year’s finalists provide a kind of core sample of the best thinking in the business, a means of assessing the current state of the art in the industry. Such an insight is especially interesting at a time when the economy continues to bounce along the bottom. So what can we learn from this year’s best of the best?
The first thing that strikes me is that so many of the finalists build their case through direct response behavioural measures, rather than effects imputed through econometrics. This is partly due to the fact that econometrics thrives on large numbers, and entries in this Age Of Austerity competition were limited to campaigns with budgets less than £2.5m. But it also provides evidence of a shift in the dominant campaign measurement currency from aggregated attitudinal and behavioural changes to the recording of effects at the individual level.
A more subjective response to this year’s finalists is that many of them are just so damn ‘creative’ - whatever that means. IPA winners are frequently characterised by a certain cerebral or academic brilliance rather than a visceral, intuitive one. However, several of the stars of this year’s IPAs also created a stir at Cannes. I’m thinking particularly of the Grand Prix winner, a campaign which saw the Colombian government using psychology against the FARC rebels rather than firepower.
As I’ve already suggested, ‘creative’ is of course a hugely vacuous word. So let’s probe a little deeper. One distinctive feature of this year’s awards was the innovative use of new channel combinations. And I’m not just talking about the industry’s current darling, social media.
For example, the Grand Prix winner deployed two Blackhawk helicopters, a platoon of special forces, a generator and a load of Christmas tree lights. Try costing that lot with a BRAD ratecard. At a slightly less extreme end of the scale, first direct used conventional paid-for media to amplify live social media content, and The Economist combined outdoor with ‘virtual’ sampling to create a subscriber prospect base.
However, for a more considered take on this year’s crop of finalists - and thus the state of the advertising nation - I need to refer you to the first few pages of Advertising Works, the hard-backed volume which comprises the best of 2011’s entries in full. Because this year’s introduction is penned by two practitioners at the very peak of their form.
The first is Professor Byron Sharp, the iconoclastic marketing scientist whose work I touched on in this column last year. The other is Kate Waters, probably the brightest planner working in the industry today - at least in my particular corner of it.
A tradition of the Advertising Works introduction is to reflect on what the year’s best papers teach us about the commercial roles of advertising. Previous authors have highlighted such important functions as the maintenance of brand price premium and the penetration of new consumer segments.
This year’s authors write about the way in which advertising helps brands grow by increasing their ‘mental and physical availability’. It’s an impressive phrase, but what exactly does it mean?
Students of Professor Sharp will be aware that he cleaves strongly to the Ehrenberg school of thought, namely that advertising is a ‘weak force’ whose primary power lies in its ability to maintain repeat brand purchase, increase the consumer’s volume of purchase, and grow the frequency with which a brand appears in a shopper’s repertoire.
Given this world view, the role of advertising is to maintain what Sharp calls ‘mental availability’. It does this by ensuring that the brand remains in the customer’s consideration set (though the word ‘consideration’ may imply more rational engagement than the professor may be comfortable with).
The McCain Wedges paper is perhaps my favourite example of this principle. The campaign successfully grew the mental availability of this line by associating it strongly with barbecues.
Growing and maintaining distribution has always been cited as an important effect of advertising. However, it has usually been presented as a secondary consequence of a campaign rather than its primary objective. By contrast, many of this year’s finalists have achieved impressive commercial results by making distribution growth (what the authors call ‘physical availability’) the central aim of their campaign. This is almost undoubtedly a result of smaller budgets forcing advertisers to think harder.
Walkers, for example, regained lost share by convincing the trade to present crisps as a way to make any sandwich more exciting. Even more impressive for me is a campaign by Marie Curie. By recruiting collectors rather than campaigning for donations, the cancer charity generated £2.45 for every £1 spent.
We all know that good advertising can make brands more desirable. Thanks to the IPA, we now know it can make them more available as well.
Rare roast beef on good bread, Plymouth Gin, thunderstorms, Autumn, a long sea voyage.