The IPA and Ad Effectiveness

This post was commissioned by the IPA, the UK ad agency trade body, and first appeared (in a marginally different form), on the IPA blog and newsletter. For more information on the IPA Ad Effectiveness programme, see:

Earlier this year I was asked to be one of the judges of the IPA Ad Effectiveness Awards. The papers were long (they averaged around 4,000 words) but the 35 I read were almost all strong on narrative, and beautifully written. They genuinely were a pleasure to read.

Now the IPA has invited me to pen some thoughts on ‘effectiveness’, illustrated with examples. Anything goes as long as I don’t choose anything entered in this year’s Awards (as the winners are still to be revealed). So my thoughts are refreshingly free of facts and evidence, and strong on opinion.

What makes for an effective campaign, something that delivers results to the business? There are of course many factors, but I think two key criteria are consistency and longevity. By consistency I mean that there not only needs to be a strategic idea, but that idea has to work across as many channels as are appropriate to reach and influence the target. Longevity is important: campaigns should be given the time to percolate, to develop in the minds of the target.

I don’t think it’s just my imagination, but it seems as if many campaigns these days are designed to be short-term. That’s not to say that all are necessarily offer-based, or response driven (not that either are necessarily a bad thing), but ideas do keep flaring and vanishing. The focus is too often on tactics over strategy. The need for short-term results is obvious, but there’s enough excellent work around, from the IPA amongst others demonstrating both the long-term effects of advertising, and what ‘effective’ looks like. And yet the benefits of a consistent strategic approach are too often swallowed up by the allure of a quick headline, or multiple shares on social media.

Here’s an example from OralB, a still from a recent TV ad:

Now, this is clever, and fun, and it raises both a smile and a load of positive social media comments. Of course it’s a stunt. There’s nothing wrong with that, there’s always a place for smart tactics but is a street cleaner anything at all to do with the OralB brand? Is the tone related to the rest of OralB’s advertising, or brand communication? Is the OralB brand known for its humour, or its style? The stunt would work so much better if it bore some passing association with the brand’s mainstream activity, and vice-versa.

Compare and contrast with my choice as a highly effective, long running campaign, for BMW. For many years now BMW advertising has followed a consistent path. Here’s how their then agency WCRS explained the four core values central to the brand’s communication strategy in an IPA paper:

Performance: ‘cars which are rewarding to drive’.

Quality: ‘quality which permeates every aspect of BMW ownership, from initial design through to servicing’.

Advanced technology: ‘the most relevant and thoughtful technology’.

Exclusivity: ‘values not available elsewhere; only BMW could make a car like this’.

Every BMW features a different aspect of these core values – with these different aspects selected for their appropriateness to those exposed to the medium in which each ad appears. In other words, the agency linked message and medium in a way that is all too rare today.

The core values, and their expression have no doubt changed and evolved over time – but they are recognisable today. Which is impressive as the paper from which I pulled these quotes was written 20 years ago, in 1994.

BMW and WCRS have, unlike OralB carried the mainstream advertising’s style and approach through into one-off tactical work. For the last 14 years the brand has run an April Fools’ Day ad. Here’s one example:

The connection between mainstream and tactical benefiting is clear (and as a BMW loyalist might I add I really wish they would invent this).

The irony is that WCRS lost the BMW account earlier this year. The new agency (FCB Inferno) has a lot to live up to.

Another example of consistency, over time and across channels is Paddy Power, the Irish bookmaker. Here’s a brand that positions itself as the cheeky chappy of the online gambling world (a world, incidentally I know nothing about). By observation Paddy Power uses a wide range of communication channels, including TV, print, OOH, various social media channels including Facebook and Twitter, product placement (if that’s the right term for the footballer Nicklas Bendtner’s underwear), hill carving, and sky-writing (using comments tweeted during the last Ryder Cup).

In every piece of communication I’ve seen the brand’s positioning is clearly and effectively communicated, and enhanced. In every medium, the brand’s consistency shines through, although whether the activity has delivered to rigorous, set objectives is a whole other question.

Jeremy Bullmore once famously wrote: “People build brands as birds build nests, from scraps and straws we chance upon”. It helps immeasurably in the building of effective campaigns if the foreman responsible for nest construction gives those doing the constructing enough time, and the right materials to complete the task.

1 Comment
  1. I agree with you Brian – consistency and longevity are paramount. I’ve often observed marketers and agencies having a strong desire to turnover over creative quickly. Marketers because they view their ads so much more than their target i.e. in their boardrooms, and agencies for the $ for this is where they make their margins.

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