For all their rigour and demonstrable robustness there remains a real problem with the IPA Effectiveness Awards that will need to be addressed. Nevertheless, IPA president Moray MacLennan was surely on the money when he announced on Monday that 'demonstrating that advertising really does contribute to business growth has never been more important than in the current economic climate'.
Spot on, Moray. You also have to raise your hat to Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which seems to be as effective an advertising agency as you can get. It won the Grand Prix this week for the 'Keeping Walking' campaign for Johnnie Walker whisky, which linked the notion of personal progress with the old Johnnie Walker campaign image of the 'Striding Man'. The fortunes of an ailing brand were transformed over less than a decade, with sales up by 48% and incremental sales attributable to the marketing, up by no less than $2.21bn.
That is an awful lot of whisky. Yet while drinking it is undoubtedly great fun, it is not so obviously associated with the idea of either personal progress or striding off anywhere manfully. Frankly, personal experience would suggest that after several glasses, plans to sit down and read Das Kapital get postponed, yet again, and the idea of a walk tends to go out of the window.
Another interesting piece of work, although it managed only a silver medal, was a campaign for the government, promoting direct electronic payments of social security and pensions, by MCBD.
In two years the campaign lifted the percentage of claimants receiving their payments electronically from 43% to 95%. You can't get much more effective than that, and the cost-benefit analysis suggests that, over time, £29 was saved for every £1 spent. Perhaps MCBD can now go for gold next year with an effective campaign designed to save some of the rural post offices doomed to closure by the effectiveness of the government's direct payments strategy.
Despite all the excitement, and honouring of impressive work, at the Hurlingham Club, however, there is still a fundamental difficulty.
It is no longer good enough to honour effectiveness advertising one night a year. What about the worst? What about campaigns that were highly ineffective at delivering stated objectives? It would be interesting to know, for example, whether the multi-garlanded BBH has had some turkeys this year.
As MacLennan says, demonstrating that advertising works has never been more important in the depths of such a recession. Perhaps the IPA or, perhaps more realistically, ISBA should be carrying out and publishing a regular audit of which companies in the industry are effective and which are not (though some allowance would have to be made for long-term benefits).
To have any effect at all, of course, names would have to be named. There would then be a grave danger that another, even less efficient industry than advertising, the law, would inevitably get involved.
Until better systems are put in place we can console ourselves with some of the insights the present awards process throws up. In the multimedia age, no fewer than 22 out of the 23 prize-winners used television as part of their campaign. This will come as pleasing news for the sponsor of the awards, Thinkbox, the television advertising promotional organisation. Best not to be in the shoes of the 23rd, though, when Tess Alps, its chief executive, comes calling.
Raymond Snoddy is a media journalist and presenter of BBC TV's Newswatch
30 seconds on... the IPA Effectiveness Awards
- The awards were launched in the UK in 1980.
- In 'even' years, they are open to all agencies, media owners and advertisers worldwide. In 'odd' years they are restricted to campaigns from UK ent-rants with annual marketing budgets of up to £2.5m.n The entrant company must demonstrate a payback on its marketing investment.
- A shortlist is compiled by ad industry judges. A separate panel of advertiser judges allocates the awards and special prizes.
- 2008's advertiser panel includes: Sir John Sunderland (ex-chairman, Cadbury); Alan Bishop (COI); Roisin Donnelly (Procter & Gamble); David Wheldon (Vodafone); and David Pemsel (ITV).
- Industry judges include: Neil Dawson (Hurrell Moseley Dawson & Grimmer); David Golding (Adam & Eve); John Deighton Brierley (Harvard Business School); Kirsty Fuller (Flamingo Group); Richard Jolly (London Business School); Paul Phillips (AAR); Toby Reeks (Merrill Lynch) and John Tylee (Campaign).