Along with death and taxes, life’s other two certainties are that consumers never admit to being influenced by advertising, and marketing directors are never influenced by ‘cold calls’. It must be true. The research says so. Yet we know for a fact that consumers are influenced by advertising, and marketers are susceptible to cold approaches. (The sales data says so.)
Similarly, marketing people will tell you that creative awards are not very important in making decisions about agency selection. I would suggest that the truth is rather different. This is an important consideration if, like Publicis, you plan to boycott awards. And especially if you think it will have no impact upon your new business performance.
So what’s going on? Are these buyers liars?
I don't think so. I think most marketers genuinely believe that awards aren’t a big consideration. Awards are a bit fluffy, aren’t they? A bit subjective? Not the stuff of serious marketing science? Marketers tend to place tangible attributes like relevant skills and experience near the top of their hierarchy of influence. They consider themselves to be marketing professionals. Proper business people. They are accountable to other, serious minded business people. As such, they are influenced by facts rather than opinion – influenced by the sausage, not the sizzle. So they believe.
And so, what marketers really want to know is what the latest 'best practice' looks like, what are the 'need to know' innovations, and the 'best-of-breed' case studies? Marketing people believe, not unreasonably, that this kind of information will ensure that they make good decisions – decisions they can defend in front of non-marketing business people if they need to.
Let’s think for a moment about where marketers are going to find that information. How does the marketing profession, as a body, get to know what best practice looks like? Why is it that marketers from hundreds of different companies will tend to point to the same handful of campaigns as ‘brilliant’, or ‘innovative’? And how do they actually know these campaigns are any good?
Just because you happen to like a campaign doesn’t mean it actually worked. Just because you hate a campaign doesn't mean it wasn’t hugely effective. To make that judgment you’d need to understand the context, the brief and the results – and the benchmark comparisons with other work that addresses similar issues.
I don’t believe you can get all of that from conferences – one speaker’s opinion is still just one speaker’s opinion, and a panel of four is still just a sample of four. So how does the marketing community form its opinions? Yep. Awards.
New business is all about the ability to tell a good story, and the truth is that those stories are forged and branded at awards ceremonies. This is where the verdicts are handed down – where ideas of what constitutes best practice are formed, where value judgments on the most important innovations are created, and a consensus emerges as to which case studies are the best case studies. This is how we know what the benchmarks are.
By the way, let’s not imagine that the spamming of clients with agency case studies is how marketers know what good looks like. Unfortunately the majority of case studies are inane, badly written accounts of average work. It’s how marketers know what crap looks like. Only when an award is on offer do agencies seem to take the time to make their case.
Awards also influence the influencers. Business schools turn to them to signpost fresh examples of marketing in action, which then get taught on courses and become enshrined in marketing mythology. Intermediaries find awards hugely useful, (although not all of them may admit it) as a shortcut in sorting the wheat from the chaff. Given all that, it’s hardly surprising that marketers imagine they are not influenced by awards. Even though they have been.
When a colleague next shows you some work that is ‘brilliant’, ask them where they got that opinion from. If you follow the attribution trail, you’ll probably find that most commonly held opinions originate from an award.
Winning a proper, credible creative award is to my mind not vanity but sanity – the sort of sanity even an FD could understand. Right now, if I was the FD of a Publicis group agency, I would be wondering whether pulling out of awards will turn out to be a false economy.
Shaun Varga is author of 'Brilliant Pitch' and founder of new business consultancy Ingenuity