Winning campaigns are fun, attractive and… available

Winning awards entries teach us that good advertising not only makes brands more desirable, but also more available.

The best awards ceremonies do more than give gongs to insecure and needy creative types. They draw together a database of best practice that practitioners – especially planners – can learn from.

This sprung to mind when I considered the recent IPA Effectiveness finalists as a means of assessing the current state of the art in the industry. Such an insight is especially interesting at a time when the economy continues to bounce along the bottom. So what can we learn from this year’s crop?

The first thing that strikes me is that so many of the finalists build their case through direct response behavioural measures, rather than effects imputed through econometrics. This is partly due to the fact that econometrics thrives on large numbers, and entries in this ’age of austerity’ competition were limited to campaigns with budgets of less than £2.5m. But it also provides evidence of a shift in the dominant campaign measurement currency from aggregated attitudinal and behavioural changes to the recording of effects at the individual level.

A more subjective response to this year’s finalists is that many of them are just so damn ’creative’ – whatever that means. Several of the stars of this year’s IPAs also created a stir at Cannes. I’m thinking particularly of the IPA’s Grand Prix winner, a campaign that saw the Colombian government using psychology against the FARC rebels rather than firepower.

As I’ve already suggested, ’creative’ is a hugely vacuous word. So let’s probe a little deeper. One distinctive feature of this year’s awards was the use of new channel combinations. For example, the Grand Prix winner deployed two Blackhawk helicopters, a platoon of special forces, a generator and a load of Christmas tree lights. Try pricing that lot with a British Rates and Data media cost card. At a less extreme end of the scale, First Direct used conventional paid-for media to amplify live social media content, and The Economist combined outdoor with virtual sampling to create a subscriber prospect base.

For a more considered take on this year’s crop of finalists – and thus the state of the advertising nation – I need to refer you to the first few pages of Advertising Works, the hard-backed volume which comprises the best of 2011’s entries in full. Because this year’s introduction is penned by two practitioners at the very peak of their form.

The first is Professor Byron Sharp, the iconoclastic marketing scientist whose work I touched on in this column last year. The other is Kate Waters, probably the brightest planner working in the industry today.

A tradition of the Advertising Works introduction is to reflect on what the year’s best papers teach us about the commercial roles of advertising. This year’s authors write about the way in which advertising helps brands grow by increasing their “mental and physical availability”. It’s an impressive phrase, but what exactly does it mean?

Sharp is a student of the Ehrenberg school of thought – that advertising is a “weak force” whose primary power lies in its ability to maintain repeat brand purchase, increase the consumer’s volume of purchase, and grow the frequency with which a brand appears in a shopper’s repertoire.

Given this view, the role of advertising is to maintain what Sharp calls “mental availability”. It does this by ensuring that the brand remains in the customer’s consideration set (though the word “consideration” may imply more rational engagement than the professor may be comfortable with).

The McCain Wedges paper is my favourite example of this principle. The campaign grew the mental availability of this line by associating it strongly with barbecues.

Growing and maintaining distribution has long been cited as an important effect of advertising. However, it has usually been presented as a secondary consequence of a campaign rather than its primary objective. By contrast, many of this year’s finalists have achieved impressive commercial results by making distribution growth (what the authors call “physical availability”) the central aim of their campaign. This is almost undoubtedly a result of smaller budgets forcing advertisers to think harder.

Walkers, for example, regained lost share by convincing the trade to present crisps as a way to make any sandwich more exciting. Even more impressive is a campaign by Marie Curie. By recruiting collectors rather than campaigning for donations, the cancer charity generated £2.45 for every £1 spent.

We all know that good advertising can make brands more desirable. Thanks to these case studies, we now know it can make them more available as well.

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Brand innovation is at the heart of growing business. If you can demonstrate a sweeping success in innovation then enter the Marketing Week Engage Awards 2012 category – just click here.

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