The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

If Effectiveness Is In The Eye Of The Beholder, I Am An Optician.
May 11, 2015, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

So for the next few days I’m in Singapore judging the Asian Effectiveness Awards.

While some of the thinking, work and results are fantastic – I am semi-alarmed at how badly some people articulate their argument.

It appears the approach taken by the agencies submitting the poor entries is “talk and talk and talk and hopefully they will be able to work it out themselves”.

And to those people I tell them this.

Yes. Yes we can. And we have worked out you don’t understand what effective communication is, let alone what commercial effectiveness is.

The good news is the overall standard of submission has vastly improved and there are some genuinely smart, creative and crafted ideas on show, however what is slightly concerning is how many brands want to be a social crusader … fighting against issues that are apparently affecting millions of people.

This might seem a strange thing for me to say given I spent years talking about how brands have the power to help society while helping themselves … especially as I got so into this theory that I even gave the approach a name ‘socialistic capitalism’ … however the way many brands are approaching the task feels like they are more focused on creating the illusion of helping others than actually helping others.

You can generally tell who they are.

+ They do something small but try and make it sound like they’re changing the World.

+ They spend so much money telling people what they’re doing, you feel their motivation is marketing rather than helping.

+ They do a hugely exploitative campaign and try and back-rationalise it’s ‘social value’.

+ They take on issues that make them look hypocritical.

+ They take on such themes [loosely connected to their product category] that are so ambiguous, you wouldn’t be able to tell if they’ve had an effect or not.

Look, I know it’s shit for me to question this approach, because like those people who slagged off Madonna when she got preferential treatment to adopt a child [errrrm, me], the fact is they’re still helping in some way which is something worth celebrating … and cynicism aside, I still think it is amazing when a brand decides to use its muscle to try and make a difference beyond just their balance sheet … however with so many brands seemingly only focused on ‘raising awareness’ for an issue rather than trying to solve it, it’s quite refreshing when someone comes along and does a good old fashioned, straight-to-the-point ad campaign, which is why I liked last years TBWA HK campaign for AIA Insurance.

[Though I obviously hated the newspaper ad they did that I link to above]

I suppose what I’m saying is that it’s great so many brands want to try and make a difference and it’s great they believe they’re making such a difference, they can enter it into an effectiveness award … however I’d be interested to see how many of them stay committed to their cause when they realize their ability to stand out as a brand is becoming diminished given so many other brands are basically following the exact same strategy.

At the end of the day, there is a significant difference between being ‘interested’ in a cause and being ‘committed’ to it and while I do not want anyone to mistake what I’m saying as an attack on anyone who is trying to make a difference, I do think we should be challenging them to evaluate their ‘effectiveness’ beyond just a rise in awareness, likes or sales.

[Acknowledging it is very important they feel their activity is making them money, because that ensures they’ll keep doing it]

God I’m going on aren’t I?

If it’s any consolation, you’re not going to be stuck in a judging room with me banging on about this issue for the next 8 hours.

There’s some more good news for you.

No more posts till Thursday. [But it’s a corker, even though I say it myself]

I’m all give, give, give.

29 Comments so far
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Yes, you are going on, but have no fear we’re used to it and are “able to work it out for ourselves”.

You’re suggesting that jumping on issue bandwagons is as inauthentic as most of the arguments you’ll be judging. Enjoy.

Comment by John

I’m not saying they’re all inauthentic, there are definitely many who do it for genuine reasons. Ronald McDonald House for example is a brilliant thing and I admire them for not using it [too often] to drive their marketing.

What I am saying is that like Hollywood – when a brand achieves success following a social cause approach – it seems to attract many others who adopt a similar strategy which opens the question of whether they are doing it for genuine reasons or the potential of increased awareness/return on investment.

The fact the awards ask us, in the main, to judge them by the results achieved in that year – not ongoing – makes the temptation to be ‘temporary fighters’ much stronger. Not all do this, but I was taken by how many brands were positioning themselves as social cause freedom fighters and the actual amount of brands that simply did some good advertising, seemed in the minority.

Again, it’s more an observation than a criticism – because any help is better than none – but when it’s done with greater emphasis on their awareness than actually solving the cause [rather than just promoting it] it does my head in.

Comment by Rob

That comment is too serious. Please don’t do it again Rob.

Comment by DH

All this social cause stuff is very similar to corporate sponsorship.

Unless the sponsor becomes the infrastructure of the sponsorship and is credible as such i.e. there’s a direct relationship between why they have customers and the area they’re sponsoring, then it just ends up as an exercise in corporate egotism and perks for the directors. Same with social causes.

Comment by John

A friend of mine said CSR stood for ‘Casual Support Relationships’ … he might be right.

Comment by Rob

Like all marketing, it’s about credible differentiation.

Comment by John

Another paid holiday. You’re like the royal family just with crap clothes and a rough accent.

Comment by DH

He’s got more money and palaces.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Of course when brands sponsor a cause and advertise the fact, you can question if they care more about the issue or the publicity. Sadly effectiveness awards, or any awards, don’t ask judges to consider that in their evaluation, just the result, so they get away with it time and time again. Especially as the agencies know that judges feel voting for these sorts of campaigns reflects as well on them as it does the agency. This is a great and important post Rob. Enjoy being the most unpopular judge in the room.

Comment by Pete

Isn’t he always the most unpopular person in the room?

Comment by DH


Comment by Billy Whizz

Great points Pete. I remember Andy once wrote a similar thing about why certain creative campaigns get all the awards even though the effect they had on their clients business was negligible. ‘Creativity by proxy’ … similar to the ‘good person by judging’ that you’re suggesting.

I won’t be the most unpopular person in the room [or at least I hope I won’t] but I will encourage us to question the results of the ’cause’ beyond just awareness – or the number of people helped when compared to the proportion of people that needs to be helped.

I personally feel we should award these campaigns for commitment as well as effectiveness, but I don’t know how realistic that is for a whole host of reasons – most, sadly, bad ones.

Comment by Rob

Well said Robert. Good comment Pete.
I wish Andrew was back, this post would be petrol meeting his flame. I will direct him to it on his return.

Comment by George

When is he back? It’s too quiet on here without him.

Comment by Rob

Can’t come soon enough.

Comment by DH

Congratulations on an excellent post Robert. It is a position of conflict because, as you state, helping the less fortunate is a important thing to do however if you feel the motivation behind their action is unfairly positioned towards the benefit of the brand, they should not be rewarded. Quite the opposite in fact.

Comment by Lee Hill

Nicely put Lee.
So Robert, how many blackeyes did you dish out today?

Comment by George

He was seemingly distracted by a birkie buying binge.

Comment by John

I expect you to come down hard on flimsy submissions. The industry is patting itself enough on the back as it is.

Comment by fredrik sarnblad

Isn’t that his normal approach to everything?

Comment by DH

It’s been a successful day. Some judges may feel differently but ensuring no one fell into the trap of judging correlation as causation means I can catch the red eye relatively happy. Well, maybe not happy, but relieved. Ha.

Comment by Rob

I was never in doubt Robert.

Comment by George

If you didn’t hit anyone it doesn’t count.

Comment by DH


Comment by fredrik sarnblad

It’s very quiet Rob. Did you make it out alive?

Comment by Pete

i was going to read all the shit been spouted out while i was paying a small fucking fortune to have a hotel give me a shit bed and crap food but after seeing campbell has blagged another fucking freebie im too sick to give a shit.

where the fuck are my presents?

Comment by andy@cynic

You would have a field day if you saw the Starbucks #RaceTogether campaign back in March, which tried to encourage latte-drinkers to have a conversation about race – with the person taking their order. There was a great piece on it by CoCreate but I won’t link it here to avoid being spammy.

Comment by Amr Sallam

yeah, the poor bullshit barista fuck is going to love talking to the same fuckers who give them shit everyday about fucking culture. adland is fucked in the fucking head. the fuckers.

Comment by andy@cynic

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