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What’s Wrong With Effectiveness?

Marketing

What’s Wrong With Effectiveness?

 Melissa Moubarak, strategy & data director at UM MENA, describes her experience as a first-time Effies MENA judge.

As a first time judge at the MENA Effie Awards this year, it was with anticipation and a little trepidation that I reported to the judging room. Hoping to play it cool when in fact I didn’t quite know how I was entrusted with critiquing other people’s hard work. With the greenness of a first-timer, I started scoring. Generously giving high grades because I liked the write-up, or because the creative message of the campaign touched me, as a consumer. But pretty quickly, I became more perspicacious, listening to the critiques of my fellow, more experienced judges. I started viewing the case studies from a different perspective, that of a MENA Effie Judge.

That meant being hawk-eyed about effectiveness – the most contentious point in any of our discussions. “Was the campaign effective?” This was our unwavering commitment to scoring each entry. The MENA Effies does not provide a definition for effectiveness, which made the task trickier, because there was no single yardstick to measure all campaigns. Sure, many submissions included the impact on sales of a product following the campaign. But when comparing a leading giant in their industry achieving a growth of 5% in sales with an up-start challenger eating up market share thanks to a 105% increase in sales, the question became about relativity. Many judges argued it was more difficult for established, mature brands to achieve growth, others claimed challenger brands had a more uphill battle and were more deserving of a higher score on results.

The relative effectiveness of a campaign was only one point of heated discussion. Judges kept raising other concerns about what was truly driving the results. Many campaigns were supporting the launch of a new product, or advertising aggressive promotions, others were coupled with strong trade marketing or distribution efforts. This led the judges to continuously question: “What are we scoring here?” A question at the heart and soul of the MENA Effie Awards premise. The Awards seeks to reward strong communication campaigns that have driven measurable results for their brands. But while we were seeing the results, it was difficult to attribute the results back to the campaign itself.

There’s nothing wrong with effectiveness. There’s something wrong with how the industry seemed to be defining it.

At least this was the sense I got from my first experience reading through case study submissions. Many entries disregarded completely any impact on brand health metrics, focusing only on sales or market share. While the Effies arose initially out of a need to tie back advertising to business results, discounting the impact of advertising campaigns on brand health is dangerous. It leads to short-termism, relegating advertising to the realm of tactical, sales-driven activities as opposed to its grand purpose of long-term brand building.

Advertising’s highest purpose is long-term brand building,
as opposed to short-term sales driving.

In their most recent publication, the godfathers of effectiveness, Les Binet and Peter Field also sounded the alarm. “Marketing should be working better than ever, but by cutting long-term brand investment in favor of short-term sales activation, businesses are stifling growth and depressing profits.” – Media in Focus. It was a feeling other judges and I shared as we trudged through the dozens of cases assigned to us on that day, mostly underwhelmed. Not because of a lack of well-executed campaigns, but by the sea of sameness we were faced with. One after the other, campaigns utilized similar data sources to target audiences across similar platforms, using similar formats and touchpoints. As technology levels the playing field, standing out must become a bold attempt to harness the power of untapped insight and media contexts to elevate a brand’s message. Data is not here to do our jobs. It’s not meant to replace the hard work of uncovering deep human insights. It’s not going to innovate in the use of media and touchpoints. This is my firm belief, even as I am the Head of Data and Strategy at UM MENA. I am worried we are not making the most of the data available to us to push us further in human creativity. And I doubt that the results of more relevant advertising can be reflected within a quarter’s sales.

The hours of debate made it clear to me, a rookie judge that marketers are at an inflection point that could define the industry as a whole. So here is a rallying call to judges, especially during the upcoming Round 2, and marketers. Our goal is to reward effectiveness. We must start with a clear vision of what that means in the context of communication. Campaigns to which both brand and business results can be attributable. Such campaigns will stand out because they will have driven results not merely due to promotions or distributions. But because they targeted undiscovered consumers, based on strong research and human insight. Or they activated new contexts and touchpoints for media in innovative ways. If we don’t maintain our focus on this definition we would be sending the wrong message about what effectiveness is, and leading our industry down a dreary and uncreative path.

Opinions expressed in this piece belongs to the author.

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