Review of Advertising Works 16 by Tim Ambler, Senior Fellow at London Business School:
Advertising Works 16 is a marvellous addition to the series. Anyone professionally concerned with advertising, or marketing communications, or marketing more broadly, should use it for inspiration. Why? These success stories show that the old disciplines thrive and yet the context has changed so much that a wholly new take is needed. Every marketer can learn from this compendium how to re-present their brand.
Take context first. The cases epitomise how the UK sees itself today: young communications channels (E4 Skins), nostalgia (Historic Scotland), ethical (Waitrose), but a troublesome underclass (drugs and guns). Another sensitive area, alcoholic drinks, had just one winner (Magners) compared with three in 1998. A then four star award for “Pulling round the red meat market” would be an unlikely winner today. The Grand Prix in 1998 was given for drug education and Adworks 10 claimed it showed “How advertising turned the tide.” The new award shows it didn’t.
Adworks 16 is more fun, informal and approachable than its predecessors. Full marks to Richard Storey and his colleagues, and their splendid opinion pieces. Ian McAteer celebrates the fact that eight out of the winning 18 cases had budgets of a million or less. He cites Ernest Rutherford’s “We didn’t have the money so we had to think.”
This is the nub of why this book is so valuable for all marketers: each case takes us back to exactly why this brand matters, or could matter more, to customers. How can it differ from the competition? How can it be better? Every marketer in the country should see the relevance of at least one of these diverse examples. We can read how the ideas were distilled, communicated and the results evaluated.
The presentation and argumentation of cases remains excellent. The IPA has no set format for entries and no doubt the judges enjoy the variety. The questionnaires now required for the IPA dataBANK may indirectly induce some similarities and those are helpful for comparing cases. Overall, there is a good blend of consistency and diversity.
The Awards are for effectiveness and here, I regret to say, the picture is about as muddled as it was in the 1990s. The flyleaf claims that all 18 case studies "are united by their successful demonstration of achieving a return on marketing investment".
In fact only seven of the 18 attempt ROI and some of those are pretty dodgy. As Les Binet and Peter Field have reminded us, ROI is not the ultimate indicator of effectiveness. It may be a useful measure of efficiency (comparing the profitability of alternative marketing options) but it is unreliable even for that: a higher ROI very likely goes with a lower profitability. And how relevant is ROI for non-profit organisations? The winning case (Trident, Metropolitan Police) decided that saving one murder was worth £1.5m so “if the campaign prevents a single death” the campaign pays for itself twice over. That’s quite an “if”!
'Effectiveness' means achieving the intended goals. Usually, and according to Binet and Field the more the merrier, there are multiple goals. They should be quantified. The goals in Adworks 16, where they are specified at all, were broad and not quantified. Profit (for commercial firms) is a good goal and so is brand equity, or raising the value of the brand, hard to quantify as that may be. Any fool can make money by prostituting the brand.
The trick is to make money and strengthen the brand at the same time as Orange brilliantly showed in the 1998 Awards. Brand equity, brand strength, brand value, call it what you like, deserves far more attention in these case studies.
Do not let these minor grumbles deflect you from securing your own copy of Adworks 16 and taking it to a quiet place with a glass or two of wine to stimulate the grey matter.