Cannes Lions trophies

How can agencies and brands reignite effectiveness?

With Cannes entries for Creative Effectiveness down dramatically, there may need to be a reassessment of effectiveness culture

By ian darby

With 11 trophies awarded out of a total of 141 entries, Cannes Effectiveness jurors had a shorter long-list than usual from which to pick their winners. The Grand Prix went to Wieden & Kennedy Portland's 'Dream Crazy' campaign for Nike.

There’s an argument to be made that any brand or business still standing deserves an award after the trials of the past year or so. However, Cannes Lions entries were down 6 percent in total on 2019 levels, and by a more significant 38 percent in the Creative Effectiveness category.

Ascential, the Cannes Lions organiser, explained that “companies have shifted to short term strategy in the face of unprecedented circumstances, work that relies on long term strategy and results appears to have been hit this year.”

The immediate shock of the pandemic certainly threw the debate around creative effectiveness into sharp relief. After all, it’s tricky to measure the impact of your brand’s advertising over the long term if you’ve turned off the advertising taps entirely or are focused even more intently than before on shorter-term metrics.

But, as we emerge into some sort of economic recovery, the issue of reframing the argument about how to best demonstrate advertising’s effect on brand and business growth is rearing its head once again. A new joint initiative from IPA and ISBA will look to place the emphasis more firmly on building creative effectiveness cultures through a benchmarking survey, called the Marketing Effectiveness Culture Monitor, which will cover all areas that have an influence – including “people, process, focus, data, tools and measurement.” This followed the announcement, back in March, from the new IPA president Julian “Dougie” Douglas that identified the launch of an “Effectiveness Accreditation” programme as a key plank of his “Accelerate Opportunity” agenda.

Which brings us to the question, with Creative Effectiveness entries down at Cannes, and IPA and ISBA feeling the need to more closely monitor factors that impact effectiveness, how can agencies and brands reignite effectiveness culture in a post-Covid era?

Jo Arden, chief strategy officer, Publicis Poke

Is effectiveness declining? Or are agencies and clients who make effective work disillusioned by creative juries? In his very brilliant book, Why Does the Pedlar Sing? Paul Feldwick reminds us of the type of work which won at Cannes in the olden days. It was work we’d all seen and which got people to buy stuff. Lots of that work still gets made, but by and large it does not get praised. We’ve seen a drifting apart of what we think as highly creative and what we can prove is effective.

The IPA and ISBA survey of effectiveness culture is an incredibly good thing – it keeps pushing a much-needed conversation between finance, marketers, creative, technology and media people about how we can make and measure work we believe combines to build brands and businesses. It defuses what is at real risk of becoming a binary and divisive debate.

Rory Sutherland, vice chairman, Ogilvy UK

There is something that slightly alarms me about creative effectiveness awards, which is that they can come across as a trifle defensive. "Look, with the wind in the right direction, this fancy stuff can really work, honest." It inadvertently risks portraying creativity as an optional extra - something which can pay off under special circumstances - rather than something which should be an integral part of all decision-making.

If you are confined only to valuing creativity to the extent that its effects can be quantified to the nearest penny, you will never be all that creative, since the biggest ideas often defy easy valuation. Good ideas work just as you expect. Great ideas work in all kinds of ways you never could have predicted, and go on doing so for decades. Suddenly, people return your salesforce's calls. Kids make songs about your brand. Better people want to work for you for less. As Mastercard might say, that's priceless.

Richard Huntington, chief strategy officer & chairman, Saatchi & Saatchi London

Whether effectiveness entries are down because the impact of the crisis has led to short-termism or because planners have been focusing on the day job rather than writing papers about the day job remains to be seen. But, more broadly, a culture of effectiveness is not about awards anyway, it’s about a profound understanding of the true problem that stands in the way of a brand’s progress and absolute clarity about the way in which the work is expected to achieve success. Rather than strategy that glances across the surface of the real issues and a culture of collective fingers crossing, hoping for the best. Strategic precision must be the focus of the industry’s endeavours, everything else is measurement.

Harjot Singh, global chief strategy officer, McCann

A culture is built based on a pursuit for success, based on a shared understanding of success.

To build, and fuel a thriving effectiveness culture, agencies and clients must share the understanding and the pursuit of what success in effectiveness looks like. We are very good at doing this with creativity.

If we can agree on the fact that effectiveness is the only credible measure of the value of our work – the value our work creates and delivers - we are very well placed to embed and expand a renewed culture of effectiveness.

A post-Covid era is an era of realigning, and redefining expectations and ideas, and I urge the industry to apply this as we embrace the fluidity and dynamism of what success and impact looks like and is driven by.

Effectiveness is about proving impact. Prior to Covid, I would argue that our understanding of effectiveness wasn’t challenged in the same way, to appreciate the diversity of factors that contribute to it, and the ways in which success and impact manifests beyond ROI led outcomes. To reignite a renewed culture of effectiveness, we need a more informed, more nuanced, and holistic understanding of success, shared by agencies and clients alike.

Effectiveness is only a way of proving that success. As long as we remain excited and energised by the idea of success, effectiveness will always prevail.

Sue Unerman, chief transformation officer, MediaCom

Businesses must commit to a culture of effectiveness. I learnt a lot as 2020 Convenor of the IPA Effectiveness Awards. The one overriding lesson was the crucial importance of the entire business, not just the marcomms team, being focused on marketing effectiveness.

This is when great long-term thinking can thrive. Where marketing is never regarded as a cost, but as an investment. Where strategic decisions can be based on creating sustainable demand, not just selling loss leaders. It applies to client companies, but also to advertising agencies and media agencies. It applies throughout the advertising eco-system at its most complex.

It is the responsibility of every leader, and everyone who hopes to lead, to own, to develop, to pioneer and to preach effectiveness in their organisation. Any business that fails to put effectiveness at its heart, and through every muscle and sinew, is short-changing its clients, its shareholders, its customers, and its own future.

Andy Nairn, founding partner, Lucky Generals

Building an effectiveness culture is much more important than winning an effectiveness award. It’s also a lot harder, although it helps if you do the following five things.

First, lead by example: show that this something the whole agency (including the management team) cares passionately about. It’s not the responsibility of one department or person.

Second, learn your stuff. We’re lucky that there has never been such a wealth of data about how brands grow, how marketing works and how advertising plays its part – so use it.

Third, park your one-size-fits all proprietary models. Start with the business objectives and build a bespoke model to measure performance against them, that’s unique to the case at hand.

Fourth, stay curious. Effectiveness shouldn’t just be a rear-view mirror. Use the data to guide future decision-making, uncover fresh insights or pose difficult questions.

Finally, keep at it. And celebrate your successes year-round, not just during awards season.

Richard Dunn, chief strategy officer, Wunderman Thompson EMEA

Over the last decade the number of things a marketer has to think about has skyrocketed. From grappling with fast-moving culture to learning the language of data and technology there has been much to master. The challenge of planning for effectiveness has also, seemingly, become more complicated, with the impact of different touchpoints across multiple channels having to be accounted for.

To reignite effectiveness culture in the face of this apparent complexity takes two things: clarity of purpose and simplicity

As agencies we have to put effectiveness at the core of our reason for existing – and ensure we hold ourselves to account for on it. Instilling clarity of purpose at every level in the agency and in the client relationship makes it easy to put effectiveness at the heart of every project. And, the response to apparent complexity in planning for effectiveness should be to find ways to tame the complexity and give us back a common language once again.


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