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May 26, 2011
We Need an Effective Definition of Effectiveness
How do we determine whether our work actually works?
So this year, Cannes is introducing an “Creative Effectiveness Lion.” Do you think the judging will go smoothly? I have my doubts. At Cannes, they usually have enough trouble figuring out whether the Juicy Fruit two-page visual solution spread is better than the Kit Kat three-minute viral video. Just try getting judges from a dozen countries to decide how effectiveness should ultimately be factored. 
In a world where marketers of all kinds are competing for attention, engagement, and sales, what truly determines effectiveness?
The answer is not as easy as you think it is. Because no one in marketing really agrees on what determines effectiveness.
When Ad Age recently showed what some research company determined were the “Most Effective Magazine Ads of 2010,” the winners were rather bland-looking ads for food and beauty products. If that’s effectiveness, I know most creative people want no part of it, because they couldn’t get hired if they put such blandness in their books.
A campaign that becomes part of the culture isn’t a slam dunk in terms of effectiveness, either. I recently attended a digital marketing conference where the Old Spice ads featuring Isaiah Mustafa were featured by three different presenters.
Yet, depending on who you ask, the lessons and takeaways of the Old Spice campaign vary: It worked. It didn’t work. It raised sales. It needed coupons to raise sales. It got everyone talking. People are forgetting about it. It was a kick in the ass to an aged brand. It didn’t do anything long-term. It engaged the consumer. The brand stopped engaging its consumers after an initial hit. We should strive to produce more campaigns like that. We shouldn’t try to emulate it. And so on.
Some people believe buzz is a major component of effectiveness. It’s easy to spot these folks. They’re quick to say, “Well, everyone’s talking about it.” Yes, that counts for something; quite a bit, actually, in today’s world. Word-of-mouth is incredibly powerful, and frankly, if people are talking about an ad or a brand, that’s a compliment and should be taken as such. But it’s also a crutch for efforts that gain attention for the wrong reasons or enjoy a short-term lifespan.
On the flip side, there are always a cadre of people who believe that sales, and sales alone, determine the effectiveness of a marketing campaigns. And it’s hard to argue that point. But people do argue it, because not every single piece of communication results in a sale. Marketing works on our subconscious just as much as it affects our immediate desires.
The reality is that marketers, and advertisers, will never have precise ways to measure effectiveness and results for every piece of communication. I’ve worked on any number of campaigns where we couldn’t determine how effective they ultimately were. We didn’t have the means to properly measure results for whatever reason: The mailing lists weren’t “scrubbed” properly. The measurements were clickthroughs, which were miniscule, rather than eyeballs which could have been plentiful. Or not enough people called the 1-800 number they saw in the “Reader’s Digest” ad versus the ad with the different number that ran in “Good Housekeeping." Depending on the agency, the client, and the campaign, even precise metrics aren’t a definitive verdict of effectiveness.
So no matter what anyone says, advertising and marketing are rife with uncertainty. One thing is for certain: Clients want results. And they’ll determine exactly what results make a marketing campaign effective. “Everyone’s talking about it” could be a determining factor for one client, and increased sales will be a factor for another.
I’ll bet the Cannes Creative Effectiveness Lion won’t produce clear winners everyone will agree with. We’ll probably get some secondhand stories of arguments among the jurors. And for a few days in Ad Age and on blogs, everyone will be talking about it.
But I’ll promise you one thing: The lure of an award will entice a whole bunch of marketers and agencies to cough up money to enter their efforts in the show and trek to France to soak in the glory. So yes, the Creative Effectiveness Lion might just the most effective marketing campaign of all. 

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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