IPA Award winners point the effectiveness way

IPA Award winners point the effectiveness way
Opinion: Strategy Leaders

Effective marketing reminds us the power of when advertising, brand and business work together.


Every morning, my local bakery puts a sign out on the pavement.

“PIZZA!” it proudly declares in a lovingly hand-drawn, pizza-inspired font before adding — more soberly — the rather important disclaimer: “Only on Fridays”.

Cut to a reliable flow of disappointed Margarita-lovers, lured in by the headline and inattentive to the small print, their pizza receptors (among nature’s strongest, surely?) switched on and then off in quick succession.

A strategist might define a problem like this as ‘hierarchy of communication’.

A creative might solve it by reversing that hierarchy. “Only on Fridays…PIZZA!”

But as any good media professional will tell you, the right answer is probably just to put the sign out on Fridays. (I’m putting the everyday pizza option to one side for now: that’s a client-side decision.)

The biannual IPA Effectiveness Awards may be one of the last remaining domains of the creative agencies, but the contribution of media to campaign effectiveness is obvious here too, on a much larger scale.

On the one hand this is a statement of the obvious: to achieve fame — that most simple yet powerful of sales catalysts — ideas must find audiences.

Advertising and brand thinking can be ‘animating force’

But in many of this year’s winning papers — announced at Monday evening’s ceremony — media isn’t just the message delivery mechanism but has its own proud story to tell as an integral part of the effectiveness story, or indeed as lead actor itself.

Nine of the 28 shortlisted papers boast combined creative and media agency authors, which is really as it should be: evidence not just of a shared agenda but itself a spur to ongoing collaboration. One is a pure-play media submission, for Médecins Sans Frontières.

Some of the biggest effects — and strongest papers — spring from even deeper wells. KFC, Tesco and McDonald’s boast returns in the billions from concerted advertising investment: most of it short-dated, much of it long in the form of brand equity.

But each one is an example of a higher form of advertising effectiveness and commercial performance also: one in which advertising and its hinterland of disciplined brand thinking isn’t just the communications bridge to consumers but the animating force of the organisation also.

In the IPA’s words, each evidences “how effective marketing…bring(s) together stakeholders from the business owners to the shop floor to promote organisational change and growth”.

The KFC and Tesco Awards submissions both relate ‘inside-out’ turnarounds. The former goes so far as to declare: “You don’t need a clever endline. You need to change behaviour across many departments and disciplines”. The latter reports strong enough internal brand grip to put them on the front foot as a trusted voice when COVID struck.

The McDonald’s paper takes the longest view of all, covering the fifteen years from 2006 to 2021 and its shift from a promotional footing to a more brand-led era characterised by ‘confident humility’.

Most telling, perhaps, is that the authors report “what really ensures the continued growth of the McDonald’s brand and business is a shared hunger for the doing of this plan”.

Not a ‘plaything’ of a marketing department

In these examples and others, advertising and ‘brand’ is not the plaything of the marketing department and its agencies, “peripheral to a company’s financial performance”, but rather the opposite: a commercial engine, owned and lived by its wider sponsors.

As we teeter on the brink of recession yet find ourselves serenaded by the prospect of “growth, growth, growth” these, then, are amongst the campaigns and papers to cleave to.

Not just because of the scale of their effects — helped along as they are of course by the sheer size of their respective businesses — but because of the palpable confidence and momentum that a commonly held understanding of brand and commitment to comms can create. Elusive, maybe, but available to all.

In these complicated and fast-moving times, we can hang out the advertising sign and hope for the best. Or, better, understand that advertising is the mere arrowhead, its power a consequence of the archer’s draw force.

Too often we scurry to advertising without first contemplating brand and how it, in turn, serves our respective business.

This year’s KFC, Tesco and McDonald’s papers — each one powered and authored by long-serving creative and media agencies — remind us that the big wins crystallise when advertising, brand and business are in lockstep. When there’s a shared hunger for “the doing of the plan”. When baker and signwriter are equally engaged.

Laurence Green is one of the UK’s most renowned advertising strategists and creative leaders. He was co-founder of the agencies Fallon London and 101. He is now an independent adviser to creative businesses and writes monthly for The Media Leader.

Strategy Leaders: The Media Leader‘s weekly bulletin with thought leadership, news and analysis dedicated to excellence in commercial media strategy.
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