Claire Beale On Advertising

Don't knock awards - agencies need them if they are to prosper
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The Independent Online

All over London this week black ties are being de-mothballed ready for the new season of advertising award ceremonies.

Nothing gets an agency slavering like the prospect of a trip up the red carpet. And not just because this is a business with more than its fair share of egos that thrive on a public massaging. Advertising awards perform a tangible business function in adland.

So it's easy to see why agencies are abuzz this week with the runners and riders for the IPA's Effectiveness Awards. It's hard to overstate the excitement with which agencies greet their appearance on the shortlist; such awards can transform fortunes.

Awards confer a competitive edge and a point of difference in an oversupplied, increasingly homogeneous agency marketplace. They make your clients happy. They make your staff happy. They can generate new business. They can help you attract new talent (and, while we're at it, where better to find the hottest new talent than on the awards podium?). And anyway, what on earth else would you put in your agency reception?

So the agencies behind the 30 shortlisted campaigns - for brands such as Monopoly (DDB and Tribal DDB), Marks & Spencer (Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R) and the British Heart Foundation (Lowe) - are no doubt already preparing their new business mailers and polishing up their powerpoint presentations.

These days, though, advertising awards must fulfil a wider, more vital industry role. They must make the case for advertising itself. At a time when advertising budgets are under siege and client procurement directors rule, advertising needs all the help it can get to justify the investment it requires.

Great creative work builds brands, cuts through the advertising clutter and strikes home with consumers; to win a creative award enshrines an ad agency's ability to effect the alchemy that turns a product into a brand.

Not all clients rate creative awards, of course. There was a great quote in Marketing magazine last week by Jeff Dodds, the newish head of marketing at Honda - a brand made infamous in recent years by Weiden & Kennedy's heart-stopping, award-hogging advertising. Dodds said: "We have a commercial job to do and if we don't succeed, the only purpose of an award is something to pad my backside with when someone is kicking it." In other words, creative excellence is only worth paying for if it sells brands.

But the academic rigour with which the Effectiveness submissions are compiled provides a vital body of evidence to demonstrate the advertising sector's contribution to British industry. And that evidence has never been more necessary. It's crucial that the ad business at large shouts about the results of the Effectiveness submissions for brands such as Marks & Spencer and O2. A big media agency chief told me last week that one of his major clients had just lodged their media ambitions for 2007: to cut their cost-per-thousand by 18 per cent. Forget brand-building. Forget developing customer loyalty. Forget finding new ways to really engage with his customers. Save money. That was the entire scope of the marketing director's requirements of his agency.

At a time when agencies of every hue are investing in the quality of their analytical systems, their strategic thinking and their consumer insight, it's sobering to remember that to many clients advertising remains a frustrating cost rather than an investment.

The Effectiveness papers are an essential weapon in the advertising industry's battle to justify the importance of that advertising investment and to justify better remuneration for agencies - remuneration that recognises the part they play in building the value of their clients' businesses. It's always been a wonder that advertising agencies are actually so terrifically bad at marketing themselves, but the IPA and its members now need to practice what they preach. Ego trips aside, awards have a real role to play in advertising the advertising industry.

WHAT IS also evident from the IPA Effectiveness shortlist is that when it comes to shifting brands, celebrities still sell. Celebrity ads dominate the campaigns on the Effectiveness shortlist. You don't need to read Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R's submission on Marks & Spencer, for example, to understand how their elegant deployment of Twiggy and Erin O'Connor (below) has contributed to the upturn in M&S's fortunes.

Buying in a big-name star for your 30-second extravaganza might add a nought or two to your budget, but if you're looking for standout from your competitors the right celebrity frontman can pay back in spades. Somebody has managed to work out that the amount of money (rumoured to be around £1m a year) Sainsbury's has spent on signing up Jamie Oliver for its advertising has achieved a return on investment of 27:1. Now that's payback.

But the success of the celebrity in advertising is not just about the benefits of lassoing your brand values on to a suitable star. It's also about milking the PR value of the association.

Advertising and PR is a potent, and cost-effective, combination but one still underplayed. The opportunity to rocket-fuel commercials by exploiting their PR potential can be significant and is no more evident than when a celebrity is involved. The column inches given over in the tabloids and celebrity weeklies every time a star accepts the advertising shilling give the commercial an exposure well beyond the original media spend.

Advertising agencies and PR agencies still work for the most part in disconnected silos, with little understanding of each other's business or how to harness their combined value. But with clients looking for more ways to make their ad budgets work harder, you can expect greater co-operation between the two disciplines. And you can expect celebrities to demand ever more eye-watering fees for the privilege.

Claire Beale is the editor of 'Campaign'

BEALE'S BEST IN SHOW M CCAIN

Ask any food advertiser what their No 1 concern is and, unless they're peddling 0 per cent fat, additive-free, guilt-free grub, the answer will universally revolve around the threat of an advertising ban. The whole sector is being ground down by the implications of what is, ultimately, a political agenda.

So thank goodness for McCain, whose new blockbuster campaign sticks two fingers up at the PC food lobby and is a rumbustious celebration of "chips, glorious chips" (and, yes, that probably is Lionel Bart you can hear turning in his grave).

McCain has put its heart and soul, and the odd £20m, into this new advertising extravaganza, which recreates that warm glow you get from the old MGM-style musicals. There's a touch of Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang here, and the boy who sings "Chips, glorious chips" to the tune of "Food, Glorious Food" even wears the original outfit sported by Jack Wild in the 1968 Oliver! movie.

McCain's agency, Beattie McGuinness Bungay, has brought together a cast of more than 120 dancers, acrobats and singers to give the ads the authenticity of the original musicals.

The genius stroke, though, is to combine this brand-building blockbuster with a real media first that offers laser-targeting. BMB is finalising negotiations to have the "Chips, glorious chips" song written into all the major Christmas pantos up and down the country. It's a fantastically audacious plot that puts into practice all the stuff agencies spout about finding new ways to engage with consumers.

This is a real feel-good campaign, exactly what is needed in a sector whose marketing feels increasingly apologetic; it even weaves in the message that oven chips are not the evil they might appear ("five per cent fat, five per cent fat"). It's a message that still needs hammering home: 52 per cent of consumers feel guilty about serving their family chips, and McCain's share of the frozen prepared foods market is on the slide, losing £15m of sales over the last year.

So this new campaign needs to work extremely hard. If you find yourself humming about chips, you can assume it is.

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