Great lengths

All that is good about having a long-term strategy.

What lessons can the 2020 IPA Effectiveness Awards teach us about the future of advertising? In the first of our chapters from Advertising Works 25 – The Definitive Guide to Effective Advertising, Jo Arden explores all that is good about having a long-term strategy.

2020 was certainly a vintage year for the IPA Effectiveness Awards and there are five papers in particular which excelled in both their commitment to, and measurement of, long-term thinking over ambitiously long timescales. These are:

  • Audi – 40 years
  • WaterAid – 16 years
  • John Lewis – 10 years
  • Aldi – 10 years
  • Guinness – 8 years

Each paper is extremely valuable in its own right of course, but it is also interesting to look at some of the themes they share.

Category-defining distinctive ideas

The first thing that strikes me about these papers is that, in their five different categories, they represent work that broke the mould. Whether through message or medium, they were all in one way or another pioneers and have redefined how their brand peers do communications.

It is not new for value retailers to advertise on price or to use humour. But Aldi’s unapologetic focusing of humour on the comparative prices of its brand versus big ones (through its campaign, 'Like brands') was a breakthrough. The subtext of ‘we all know this brand stuff is nonsense’ is brilliantly countercultural for a grocer that was itself trying to build a brand. By being direct about the relationship between price and taste (or lack thereof), Aldi brought the consumer in on the joke and changed the game for price-led advertising.

In just ten years, the brand has changed the tone and tempo of the Christmas retail season; in both spend and popular interest it is now the UK’s Super Bowl of advertising. There is, of course, debate about the merits of this change. But in terms of advertising spend, excitement and a showcase for British creativity, there is a lot to celebrate.

Guinness’ 'Made of more' is a lesson in long-term brand thinking. It is all the more impressive given the impeccable history of Guinness communications ideas – 'Good things come to those who wait' being the best booze strategy ever written in my view. 'Made of more' so convincingly describes the very essence of the product and is so consistently and beautifully expressed that it is surprising it is only eight years old. In a sector which has responded to a changing drinking culture and increased regulation with tacked-on purpose initiatives, 'Made of more' goes so much further. It is a long-term strategy which has paid back consistently and continues to provide a firm foundation for the full spectrum of that brand’s communications tasks. Perhaps most importantly right now, it is a thought which is at once fixed and flexible; another characteristic that these long-term papers share.

An idea expansive enough to move with the times

It is a special kind of talent that finds an enduring idea. The mythology behind Audi’s 'Vorsprung durch Technik' suggests that a certain degree of luck is involved too, but there is no luck involved in how Audi and BBH have kept that idea current. Successive generations of marketers and agency teams have tapped into what the brand idea means in the context of today’s culture.

Similarly, whilst the central strategy of John Lewis’ Christmas campaigns remains the same year after year (i.e. 'John Lewis is the home of thoughtful gifting'), each campaign taps into the mood and energy of that year. From the beautifully conceived and crafted film to the activation, partnerships and promotions that sit around it, there is a clear thread which weaves through a decade of volatility and change. John Lewis at Christmas is that brand at its purest and with the recent (August 2020) scrapping of its 95-year-old price promise, 'Never knowingly undersold', it is an investment which will be the point of consistency as the brand enters a new decade. WaterAid talks with impressive honesty about the changes it made to how its strategy was delivered over the 16 years its paper covers. In building a new communications model, it iterated channels and content in response to new learning. From switching out TV for press, to changing the timelines over which it made an ask to donors; in keeping the overall mission clear, it was able to experiment with how best to get there.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow

2020 has been a year for the tacticians. Businesses have had to make fundamental changes in how they get to market, how they serve customers, and in many cases, changes to what they actually make. For many brands, those without a clear sense of what they stand for, this has meant a shelving of long-term strategies in favour of short-term fixes. For others, their response to the COVID crisis has been helped by a sense of certainty about their brand and how it should behave and communicate even in such strange times. It will be fascinating to see how those brands manage to weigh the immediate needs of today against strategies made in what feels like a different time entirely.

The IPA Effectiveness Awards Databank has a wealth of papers that demonstrate the value of long-term thinking and this year will see some brilliant new additions. There is no shortage of inspiration and information there for marketers who see their role as temporary curators of a brand, responsible for preserving it for generations to come.

As we rebuild our communities, our culture and our industry against the backdrop of an economic and public health crisis, thinking about the role that brands play is essential. Trust in brands has remained high throughout a tricky 2020 and it is undoubtedly the brands that have benefitted from long-term investment that, at this stage at least, look set to survive the tests they face.

This is an abridged version of Jo Arden’s chapter from Advertising Works 25 – The Definitive Guide to Effective Advertising.

Purchase Advertising Works 25.
Last updated 01 May 2024