Letter From America

What the Snoop Dogg ad row says about effectiveness.

Laurence Green, Director of Effectiveness, IPA, shares his thoughts after his visit to the ‘Creative Impact NYC’ show at Most Contagious in New York.

There are tens of thousands of brands in B2C and B2B [here in the US] that are doing work that could be far more effective if they followed some common principles”.  So summarised – or perhaps despaired – the ‘On Strategy’ podcast host Fergus O’Carroll in conversation with Mark Ritson recently. 

Prof Ritson had, characteristically, put the cat among the pigeons – and prompted that podcast – by declaring in his Marketing Week column: “We are living in a golden era of effectiveness. But those golden rays of knowledge dim whenever I approach American shores.”  

Unusually, perhaps, it was O’Carroll’s more prosaic summation that actually stayed with me on this occasion.  Partly because Fergus enjoys native status in the US, and partly because his plain vanilla description of the state of affairs invites agreement rather than counter-argument, his starting point is likely to be a more useful one for effectiveness advocates in a market that still tends to go short and measure short.

The state of effectiveness Stateside

Either way, their exchange served as an interesting backdrop to our pop-up masterclass at WARC’s inaugural ‘Creative Impact NYC’ show in the Big Apple last month.  IPA acolytes Adam Morgan and Orlando Wood led the ‘Brits are coming!’ effectiveness charge, ably chaired by Elizabeth Paul of The Martin Agency, whose mission to ‘fight invisibility’ should surely be tattooed on agency arms on both sides of The Atlantic.

Despite Adam and Orlando’s wonderfully constructed clarion calls around ‘The Cost of Dull’ and ‘The Timeless Importance of The Show’, it was actually Elizabeth who had the effectiveness case study of the moment in her backpack…and one which shines light on Prof Ritson’s provocation and the Podcast King’s more sober conclusion.

No smoke, but plenty of visibility

In short: on 17 November 2023, Snoop Dogg announced on social media he was ‘giving up smoke’.  A post that – in the words of another Creative Impact NYC speaker – boasted ‘optimal incongruence’, and perhaps understandably went viral.  (It made the BBC news homepage, for example.)

Cut to the twist, when it was revealed shortly thereafter that Snoop’s lifestyle volte face actually related to his purchase of a smokeless stove fire pit from Solo Stoves. A category and a brand that I dare say is otherwise not front of mind.  Invisibility fought and conquered by Martin and their client, you might have thought.

Except that: on 17 January 2024 (yes, a mere eight weeks later) the Solo Stoves CEO was removed from his position on the basis that the campaign “did not lead to the sales lift that we had planned.”

There is, most likely, more to this story than meets the eye.  But the very fact that this short-term ‘under-performance’ (of, remember, a fire pit brand) could be set out as plausible corporate narrative would suggest that both Riston and O'Carroll are correct.  That the US has an effectiveness problem, or at least blind spot.

The Rorschach Test for Effectiveness

Elizabeth herself has described the (over)reaction to the campaign as something of a Rorschach Test.  If you believe advertising investment must always pay back sharply, earning its corn within days as short-term ‘salesmanship in print’, then you will see the de-frocking of its ultimate sponsor as an inevitability.  If you believe advertising pays back across short and long, but mainly long (especially, surely, in a seasonal category like fire pits) then you will be left puzzled.  

Binary conclusions about US versus UK effectiveness, however, are rarely helpful – even if they do make for better headlines – and it would be wrong not to recognise the many US brands that do demonstrate the art of brand building, supported by best effectiveness practice.  

Nourishment for this latter camp (the IPA school, if you like) came later in the day in the form of McDonalds’ Global CMO Morgan Flatley’s overview of its relatively recent transition at home from promotional footing to brand-led business.  Her piece de resistance: a first-quarter earnings call during which her CFO called out the ‘Raise Your Arches’ campaign by Leo Burnett in the UK as “a prime example of our marketing excellence in action”.  High five, Leo’s!

Linking brands to business outcomes is always timely

In a world where CEOs can be removed after eight weeks, the join between ideas and brand strength, and business outcomes, can never be stressed enough, nor the mechanisms and timelines that lie beneath.

Laurence Green Director of Effectiveness, IPA

Happily, here comes the IPA Effectiveness Awards again to do just that: now in their 44th year, and closing in April.  It’s not too late to tilt at glory, and contribute to the body of knowledge that is the IPA Effectiveness Databank: knowledge that may have saved Snoop’s skin and his sponsor’s too.

Find out more about the IPA Effectiveness Awards 2024 and download your entry pack.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 01 May 2024