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CMOs who've been saying that creative awards don't matter to them are finally getting it right.

Updated: Sep 20, 2019

The link between creatively awarded campaigns and effectiveness has been well documented. Peter Field and Les Binet's numerous publications on the topic over the last ten years, drawn from the IPA's databank of over 1500 campaign cases, is probably the most famous of the scientific literature.


Granted, a creative award never changed anything for the client per se. But as an indication of the creative level of the advertising, it's always been an important gauge of its ability to be profitable over time. Not anymore.


Peter Field presented his latest findings in Cannes last week, showing that the link between creatively awarded campaigns and advertising effectiveness is now officially broken. The efficiency of awarded campaigns is "likely to have reached or fallen below that of non-awarded campaigns", he said.


In other words, now, a campaign that has been recognized for its high creative level is not more likely to be profitable for the advertiser than one who hasn't. Why?


Campaigns are getting shorter and more awards are given to short term campaigns


In 2008, none of the cases from the IPA databank that had been creatively awarded was short term campaigns. Zero. Ten years later, 40 % of the cases that had received creative awards were short term campaigns, and they had allocated on average 2.5 times higher digital spend than their long term counterparts.


The general tendency towards shorter campaign durations poses a problem for the effectiveness of creativity in general. Creativity is good at telling stories, it's good at developing characters, it's good at novelty, surprise or otherwise showing the audience a different perspective. In doing this, creativity gets attention, sparks emotion and its message and the sender are more likely to be recalled in the future, which is what building a brand is all about.


But when marketers increasingly trade in future value for immediate satisfaction, creativity is wasted. When what you're doing is in effect trying to close the sale NOW, then a straightforward listing of selling points followed by a price point and a call to action seems to be doing as good a job if not better. A striking new idea when the wallet is already out can be counterproductive.


Effects that are harder to attribute feel less urgent in a world where even my auntie has set up a daily ROI report on her Amazon side-hustle.

Short term tactics are increasingly applied to long term campaigns

In addition to development towards shorter campaign periods and more creative awards being handed to short-term campaigns, Field also demonstrates the increase in the application of short-term tactics on long term campaigns. Targeting is getting tighter, exposure is set to trigger closer to decision, and the messaging is more prone to prompt for action even for "brand building" campaigns.


It's not hard to understand why marketers would want to get away with doing both sales activation and brand building at the same time. And it's not hard to understand that effects that are harder to attribute feel less urgent in a world where even my auntie has set up a daily ROI report on her Amazon side-hustle.


But it is a shame, as the evidence clearly shows the spoils awarded to those few who master the use of different tools for different jobs.


So what do the best of the best still have in common?


The best performing half of the IPA case campaigns in the latest research period (the last ten years), were five times more effective in gaining market share and had twice the impact on pricing power. In other words, they were far superior in improving profitability.


The over-performing campaigns also:


  • Were more likely to have market share growth as campaign objective (under-performers were more likely to have sales activation as objective)

  • Had on average twice the campaign duration as the under-performers

  • Were closer to the optimum budget split of 76 % on brand building (under-performers were on average 10 % points below that)

  • Had a higher proportion of spend on high reach media

  • Sales activation in the short term is of course also important, even critical, for long term success. But as short-termism is becoming even more widespread, knowing how to optimise for both long term and short term objectives is a stronger competitive advantage than ever.


Creative awards might not matter for CMOs anymore, but that's good news if you're a CMO and understand how to put creativity to its best use.




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