Do effectiveness awards show advertisers how creativity actually works?

The UK IPA Effectiveness Awards, due to be announced late tonight, have value but should be handled with care. The studies make a business case for advertising. The Gunn Report sets out to establish a link between business success and creativity. It is good to see that IPA winners are sometimes also creative award winners.

However, what the case studies don’t do, and cannot do, is help people (clients in particular) understand how the work came about; and in some cases, how the work actually worked, not just that it did.

Jeremy Bullmore’s thoughts on this subject are both preceptive and witty (as you’d expect). Case studies are written to be comprehensible: they give the impression that advertising is a linear process. It is not. The analysis and judgement that goes into the brief is rational, as is the testing of the work that comes out. The bit in between is neither rational nor irrational but something quite different.

It can be a messy process, with many different ideas, cul-de-sacs, sweat, tears, and luck. Work that intuitively feels right can lead to a review of the brief.

This is the world of hypothesis – if the brief is seen as written in stone, then it is no more than a set of instructions rather than a springboard for the creative solution. Understanding that there is a difference between how you come up with an idea and how you justify it is crucial for getting the best out of agencies. The key is to be clear about what you need to achieve and why, and let the brains involved find their way to a solution – through associations and connections that might seem random or irrelevant at any given moment.

The ideas that result still need to be tested – a difficult period for creative teams, whether the test is the creative director’s judgement, or a pre-test. Work is rarely right without some need for tuning and development.

For me, the most interesting thing about effectiveness awards is that they show that advertising has many different objectives, not just increased sales. In fact, the role of most advertising is not to increase sales directly at all but to change attitudes or behaviour in a way that is believed will have an effect on sales.

It would be fascinating to accompany the best case studies with a parallel text describing what really happened. Many great ideas came into being through chance. The role of luck, of allowing for the unexpected, should not be underestimated.

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About Giles Keeble

Giles Keeble started as a rep (account man) at JWT before moving to BMP. There Stanley Pollitt told him that JWT’s Stephen King had wanted him to become a planner. John Webster encouraged him to become a writer but after a number of years Giles moved to French Gold Abbott and, for a while, did become a planner of sorts. Returning to writing he went to David Abbott’s new agency AMV followed by WCRS and was then ECD of Leo Burnett for six years. He then returned to AMV before moving to Publicis and then Lowe in Hong Kong at the inception of the ‘World’s Local Bank’ campaign for HSBC. He now works as a writer and strategist as well as running advertising courses for senior clients.