J. Walter Thompson's Neil Godber, Convenor of the Judges for the 2018 IPA Effectiveness Awards, shares themes from the judging sessions that demonstrate how effectiveness is evolving.

Given the amazingly diverse ways in which clients and their agencies have been tackling marketing challenges, we set out to encourage a greater range of solutions and their creators to enter the 2018 Awards.

We’ve seen some great cases exploiting sponsorships and cases that were digital only. We also saw big-idea, fame-generating cases, like Guinness.

We found improvements in brands integrating the long and short term with significantly more time dedicated to engagement and media planning, as the methods of engaging consumers have grown to fuel a greater range of ideas.

When, previously, much time was spent interrogating the problem and getting to the idea as the solution, we’ve now seen equal time spent on understanding and on carefully planning out how the idea was intended to engage with and involve the consumer.

Along the way, we’ve spotted some key themes:

A return to first principles of marketing

Despite the fact that, on the surface of things, everything is changing – data timeframes, ways of bringing ideas to life, social platforms and the blurred lines of marketing – some things have stayed the same.

Amongst many winners, we saw a timely return to first principles. For instance, the AA employed mass-reach emotion with a return to its core product, which helped it avoid profit-depleting discounting, and achieve more profitable sales. Rather than aim purely for efficiency, The British Army decided to widen its appeal through mass marketing and an emotionally engaging platform around camaraderie.

Weetabix reinterpreted existing memory structures from the brand’s history as opposed to generating new equity from nothing, and Audi used ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ to guide its recovery back to full power.

Social drives strong commercial returns

Social hasn’t historically been judged in terms of its commercial effectiveness, but among this year’s winners, it was used purposefully to drive both the brand and business to great effect. L’Oréal used inclusivity as a benefit in the beauty world and engaged a long cast of influencers to create mass awareness of its proposition.

Conversely, Starbucks recognised coffee as an inherently social event to drive commercial sales through social over time. Using a test-and-learn approach through time, Starbucks showed how it adapted and improved incrementally through distinct phases of engagement.

Paying respect to performance

It was no surprise, given how marketing budgets are continually evolving, that more time and effort was invested in intelligent examples of activation and immediate behaviour change. People are being smarter, using multiple data sources in more interesting ways to generate stronger immediate returns. For example, IAG Cargo, the cargo-handling division of International Airlines Group, launched a global customer loyalty programme to grow the value of its small to medium-sized clients. This was smarter than simply machine-gunning generic offers by taking the audience, interrogating it, segmenting it, and building a loyalty scheme to drive share and sales.

The payback of purpose

Only a few cases were overtly using brand purpose – either brands were not adopting it as a conscious means to achieve commercial success or were finding it hard to justify how it had payed back. Of those that won, Barclays advocated its purpose and generated more positive sentiment among its employees which then increased performance. Conversely, P&G-owned Chinese skincare brand SK-II pulled itself away from the pack via its purpose, which helped it drive greater distinctiveness and success versus the competition.

Putting a commercial return on the value of sponsorship

This year’s sponsorship cases were interesting because of their ability to extend beyond the typical packages: they pushed further to put a commercial return on the value they generated. Heineken was an incredible global case study on how to corral effectiveness across multiple countries and regions. Rather than simply raising awareness, Heineken used football as an occasion to encourage beer-drinkers to trade up in the environment of watching the big game: people often watch football in groups and the hosts are likely to purchase a more premium beer. Suzuki drove its proposition of ‘fun’ through ITV’s ratings smash Saturday Night Takeaway, using the stars of the show to create long and short films which were deployed in wider media channels, as well as engaging dealers and providing the material for roadshows.

The rules of marketing

Finally, we also saw the learning of Ehrenberg-Bass and Byron Sharp filtering through to successful cases. The default in the estate agent category is high commission rates. Purplebricks’ unique offering saw it expand its category through mass media. Lidl explicitly referenced other laws including Double Jeopardy – whereby brands with less market share have fewer buyers, and these buyers are slightly less loyal. It avoided an overly narrow definition of its market to take on all grocers in its quest for growth through a radically new approach to media and creative.

This is an extract from the 2018 IPA Effectiveness Awards Report, available in full for subscribers here or read a sample of the report here. Influencer marketing is the focus of the February issue of Admap, published Monday 4th February.