What to do about the effectiveness crisis: lessons from EffWeek

—Sid Lee’s MATT FOULK on the ‘worrying’ shortfall in brand understanding, data seduction, and fostering an effectiveness culture—

In September I was lucky enough to attend EffWeek in London. For those unfamiliar, EffWeek is the annual global conference on creativity and effectiveness, established by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA).

Despite climate and Brexit protests, near-constant drizzle and the typically beige food, it was an eye-opening experience. I’m constantly surprised and concerned that conversations around creative effectiveness remain generally peripheral in this market compared to elsewhere. Attending a conference created to directly address this existential issue renewed my commitment to elevate the conversation back in Canada.

With that in mind, here are my five key EffWeek takeaways:

There’s a worrying shortfall in brand understanding amongst business leaders

Using findings from its illuminating global study conducted with the IPA, “The Board Brand Rift: How Business Leaders Have Stopped Building Brands,” the Financial Times revealed that 52% of business leaders rate their knowledge of brand building as average to very poor.

This was reinforced by the fact that in the same study, over half (54%) believed that social media is one of the most effective channels to build a brand, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

These findings have huge implications for everyone working in the advertising community, and represents a massive opportunity. I believe we must be subject matter experts and partner with our clients to increase our collective knowledge around what works and what doesn’t so that the quality of our product is raised. And also put an end to the ridiculous over investment and unhealthy over-reliance on social media.

A reminder that data is ‘the dumbest part’ of what we work with

A lot of people were talking about how we’ve been seduced and can feel increasingly overwhelmed by the tsunami of real-time data, losing sight of the inputs and metrics that truly matter in the process. Not to bash social media again, but in my view likes, shares and followers can be good complementary indicators of business impact, but all too often are used as wholesale substitutes.

Echoing thoughts from his excellent book How Not To Plan: 66 Ways To Screw It Up, Les Binet reminded us that there is no single foolproof way of measuring effectiveness and that we need to triangulate multiple metrics and methods, some of which have been around for a very long time. One example mentioned being A/B testing, which can trace its beginnings to 1908.

Fostering an effectiveness culture is a challenge for even the most progressive brands

Diageo and Adidas were just two of the companies that shared how they are instilling an effectiveness culture within their organizations. It was reassuring to hear that breaking effectiveness down into small, everyday simple habits (such as internally showcasing business impact through reports and posters) has helped drive progress in this important area.

Perhaps most refreshing to hear was when Simon Peel, the global media director at Adidas, candidly admitted that he “felt like a fraud” because they were “still figuring things out,” and he openly shared a number of effectiveness roadblocks they’d encountered, such as inconsistent measurement approaches.

The decline in creative effectiveness is being described as a crisis

It’s unfortunately clear that the alarms Les Binet & Peter Field first sounded with their publications Marketing In The Era of Accountability in 2007 and then The Long And The Short of It in 2013 have not had the impact we needed, and the effectiveness problem in advertising is actually worsening.

Today even award-winning work is generating fewer business results and continues to be dominated by short-term thinking—despite the clear evidence that long-term brand building efforts should constitute 74% of overall investment. Why? My perspective is this short-termism is happening largely due to increasing pressure—both client and agency side—to see business results faster, given the overall accelerating speed of market changes.

We are in an era of flat and abstract ‘left-brain advertising’

Orlando Wood of System1 has written a new book called Lemon: How the advertising brain turned sour, and it’s a real cracker that should be on everyone’s Christmas list. It leverages neuroscience, cultural history and research to demonstrate how left-brain thinking is dominating business, popular culture and our industry, turning our output “sour” (read ineffective).

Orlando shared highlights of his book during the conference to a packed and highly engaged auditorium. I encourage everyone to check out the video of his presentation (below), but what I really enjoyed most was the comparison of a GoDaddy TV spot from 2018 (left-brain) with a Heineken TV spot from 1985 (right-brain), at about 16 minutes. GoDaddy was staccato, abstract, very much of the moment, but forgettable. Heineken had a clear story arc that engaged and pulled you in. Much more memorable.

There were obviously many more learnings, but I felt these were the most important. To read more and download the presentations visit www.effworks.co.uk .

Matt Foulk is the VP, Head of Strategy at Sid Lee, a 2020 Effie awards judge and Executive Board Member of the Canadian chapter of the Account Planning Group (APG Canada).