The Big Picture

Posted 21 June 2017.

​By David Thomason, FCB.

​Advertising, marketing, communications (whatever you choose to call what we do) has become very messy. Our industry’s been accused of not changing fast enough and, at the same time, chasing shiny new and unproven trends. We’ve worried about traditional versus digital media. And generalists versus specialists. We’ve argued about the best way to interact with clients and partners, and which structure will efficiently produce the most effective work.

They’re fascinating debates and they’ll keep raging. Competition keeps us evolving and improving, and there’ll never be one right answer for all. But there are important areas where we must align.

Firstly, we need to reinforce the immense value marketing adds to business and other organisations. The recent Deloitte Advertising Pays study, commissioned by the Commercial Communications Council (previously CAANZ) also reveals the vast contribution the industry makes to the general economy.

Secondly, we need to ensure we continue to deliver maximum value. This involves an important reality check; a kind of confession. It’s time to acknowledge that the strategic value of marketing and advertising has been weakened by an over-emphasis on short-term results.

Numerous studies show that those who don’t reinvent their strategy every quarter, or throw away their campaign when it’s just getting traction, still win the bigger game. And that a modern impatience has made advertising less effective.

It’s not one or the other. It’s all about balance. Short-term activation is critical to most businesses. But we need to acknowledge that consistent brand-building, and consistent executional elements, remain the more efficient and effective way to deliver results year after year.

It’s our job to give clients expert advice even when it challenges their views. And to provide them with the evidence and support they need to achieve the best balance for their business and culture.

But too often agencies have been willing accomplices. When presented with next year’s budget, the opportunity to develop exciting new strategy and creative ideas can be very tempting. It requires a maturity to say, “You know what? Your core strategy shouldn’t change. We created that brand campaign to last, so let’s keep running it.”

Instead, we’ve allowed the balance to swing wildly towards small, short-lived ideas, campaigns and effects, and away from the most valuable aspect of what we do. We still have the power to develop strategies, ideas, innovations, campaigns, platforms and touch-points that deliver large and sustained effects. In a fragmented tech-driven world this only becomes more important.

I’ve always believed that popularity is a very good indicator of brand campaign effectiveness (actually, this is supported by science), so it’s interesting to note that Colmar Brunton’s recent ‘TVC Top Ten’ includes nine “golden oldies”. Agencies talk a lot about ‘wear-out’ but in a fragmented media world it makes sense that this now takes even longer. It’s often true that when you’re getting sick of your own campaign, it’s just starting to work.

Someone will accuse me of being television-centric (and I haven’t got room to defend a bias here), but the importance of longevity applies at least as well in digital media. Mitre 10’s “Easy As”, the Electricity Authority’s “What’s My Number”, HPA’s Depression.org (“The Journal”) and New Zealand Fire Service’s “Escape My House” are all online platforms that were built to last – in fact they have, or will, last well beyond any specific advertising execution.

This isn’t a digital technology issue. We need to shift the balance of our work across all channels. The Comms Council is helping to drive this agenda on behalf of the industry, and the Effie (Advertising Effectiveness) Awards provides an ideal opportunity to reinforce the point.

This year brings one particularly significant change: the judging and marking process will now clearly favour campaigns that deliver lasting results, over those that produce a brief spike in audience response.

This doesn’t mean short-term campaigns aren’t important or can’t win. But it will shift the balance. The Effies are an annual opportunity to review what really works in marketing and advertising today. Let’s make sure we’re all looking at the big picture.