Magazine article Marketing

Ads Are Not Just about Selling

Magazine article Marketing

Ads Are Not Just about Selling

Article excerpt

Criticism about a public service campaign winning the Grand Prix at the IPA Effectiveness Awards has rekindled arguments about how the sector measures whether ads are working.

Awards evenings are rarely entirely harmonious and last week's dinner to announce the winners of the bi-annual Advertising Effectiveness Awards, run by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, proved no exception. Indeed, barely was the envelope torn open to reveal the Health Education Authority as the winner of the Grand Prix for its Drugs Education Campaign, than whispered criticism started over the validity of the evidence provided to demonstrate its effectiveness.

The HEA's campaign focused on raising awareness of the health hazards associated with drugs, and was targeted at teenagers and young adults. With such a public service remit, the agency was required to look beyond sales figures and profit levels when it came to proving its effectiveness.

The evidence provided (see box) included some figures which seemed to some in the audience to stretch the bounds of credulity just a little too far. Stefano Hatfield, editor of Campaign, writing in The Times last week, said: "The winning paper cited as 'evidence' [pounds]28m being diverted from the black economy, saving industry [pounds]11m a year in lost working days and [pounds]3m on drug education. There were also said to be 'savings' on the long-term cost of treating people who 'might' have had Ecstasy-related depression. It is this kind of statistical manipulation that gives politicians a bad name." He was not alone at the event, or after it, in questioning some of the claims.

But it is not the first time that the Advertising Effectiveness Awards have caused friction. Two years ago, when BT was awarded the Grand Prix for the 'It's good to talk' campaign, the critics complained that a company spending [pounds]35m on advertising could not fail to outgun its rivals when it came to influencing consumers.

Awards criticism

As one industry commentator, contacted for this piece, quipped, there has yet to be an advertising award with which someone hasn't taken umbrage.

But is it justified? None of those present at the Awards dinner last week, except the judging panel, had read the 4000 word paper which won the HEA and Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters the Grand Prix. The papers will not be widely available until publication of the winning documents, by the IPA, at the end of January. Consequently, many people are likely to agree with Winston Fletcher, chairman of the Bozell UK Group, who is opting to reserve his judgement: "There are pros and cons associated with a public service campaign winning," he says. "The pros are that it highlights advertising's contribution to important social issues and that is a worthwhile and significant thing to do. The cons are that it is a special case and cannot be evaluated in terms of straightforward sales increases as with a commercial campaign."

Tim Broadbent, managing partner and head of planning at Young & Rubicam and deputy convenor of the judges at this year's awards, is emphatic that the campaign deserved its success: "The judging process was more thorough and critical this year than at any other IPA Effectiveness Awards. Any paper getting through both stages of the process has gone through rigorous selection processes."

Advertising effectiveness and how it is measured has long been the subject of intense debate. The impact made by advertising on consumer attitudes and perceptions is not easily quantifiable: "People know advertising can work," says Nick Kendall, the convenor of judges and group planning director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty. "But the question remains how can we improve our chances of making advertising work and how can we show it works. These papers show people how to improve their practices. It is not a debate which is ever going to reach a solution."

The industry is becoming more able to demonstrate the effectiveness of advertising and the IPA has been working to broadcast its message beyond the confines of the advertising and marketing industries. …

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