Multiple Gold IPA Effectiveness Award winner Tom Roach, Head of Effectiveness at BBH London, shares a personal perspective on the value of writing an IPA Effectiveness entry, and reveals the top 20 IPA case studies on WARC.

Awards don’t matter. But effectiveness matters a lot. So effectiveness awards matter too.

When the IPA started its Effectiveness Awards in 1980 to help prove beyond doubt that advertising worked, its founders couldn’t possibly have predicted that nearly 40 years later, they’d be as permanent and important a fixture in the industry’s calendar as they’ve become.

Today they’re widely acknowledged to be the world’s most rigorous advertising awards. The gold standard in effectiveness awards, to which all others can only aspire.

I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a huge believer in the importance of the IPA Effectiveness Awards. I got a taste for them early on that I’ve never lost, having been lucky enough to win at my first attempt with the Sainsbury’s ‘Try Something New Today’ case and then again two years later with Sainsbury’s ‘Feed your family for a fiver’. Writing the first couple helped get me my next job and that led to a third gold award in 2012, for McDonald’s. All three cases are still relevant for their learnings today and two of them feature in the IPA and WARC’s list of the top 20 most popular IPA cases ever, published here for the first time.

I may be an IPA geek, but I’m not blind to some perceived problems with the awards: that like all industry awards they can be seen as frivolous industry back-slapping; that the tremendous effort they take can distract from the more important task of creating effective communications in the first place; that it’s assumed they require overly academic levels of rigour; that effectiveness awards can seem ‘backward-looking’ in these days of real-time data and in-flight optimization; the idea that they don’t reward creativity (a misperception given the well-proven link between creativity and effectiveness gives more ‘creative’ work an in-built advantage anyway); a fear that those perfectly crafted 4,000 words will sit in a file somewhere, never to be looked at again.

All of these charges have a tiny kernel truth, but they’re not the whole truth, and they pale into insignificance when set against the true and total value that writing IPA Effectiveness cases generate for authors, agencies, clients and the industry.

In my view the true value of writing an IPA Effectiveness awards entry is this:

  1. Recognition and career progression for authors. I owe two agency moves and a promotion in part to the cases I’ve written. The legendary ex-BBHer Jim Carroll’s philosophy on a strategist’s career progression is that to progress you need the three A’s: Achievements, Assets, Advocacy. The IPA awards have helped me with all three.
  1. Client satisfaction and team pride. Apart from perhaps the positive reception of new creative work in the real world and in the industry, there’s no better way to get client and agency teams to feel such a degree of pride in the work they create together.
  1. Demonstrating the value of an agency’s work within your client‘s organisation. Writing an IPA case gives you the fullest, most rigorous and independently verified record of the value generated by an agency for a client. The rigour of the process gives the data (whether you win or not), a credibility and a currency like nothing else out there with CMOs, procurement people, CFOs even CEOs.

    Agencies tend to massively under-estimate the value an IPA case can continue to have for them in the months and even years after the awards night. Their true value lies not in their 4000 words or the metal door-stop you pick up, but in the handful of headlines about the revenue & profit generated by the agency’s work they generate.
  1. Demonstrating the total value of an agency’s work across multiple clients to new client prospects. In 2018 BBH wrote 9 IPA Effectiveness cases for 8 clients, of which 5 were shortlisted, demonstrating £5bn of revenue generated by BBH work: we’ll always be able to make this claim.

  1. The value of the new learning they represent for the industry. Advertising is evolving more quickly than ever before, and budgets are under threat from more different directions than ever before. From other functions within client organisations, from a myriad of less proven marketing channels and tactics, from consultancies.

There is no more rigorous a test for the effectiveness of communications channels and tactics than the IPA awards, whether already proven or new and as yet unproven. They’re an invaluable and independently verified body of evidence that can help our industry determine which new methods we should embrace, which we should use more sparingly, and perhaps even which we should not use at all. They are the ultimate marketing bullshit detector.

So the IPA Effectiveness Awards aren’t just about proving the value of advertising. They’re about proving your own personal value, your agency’s value to new and existing clients, our industry’s continued value, and the value of new channels and technologies.

But like all brands, the IPA Effectiveness Awards needs to constantly recruit new users to grow: so let’s all do everything we can to encourage new readers of past papers and to inspire new authors to write their first entries for 2020’s competition.

And with that in mind here are the Top 20 most popular cases of all time on WARC. Happy reading and happy writing in 2020.

Top 20 most popular IPA cases

  1. FREE to view: John Lewis: Making the nation cry...and buy
  2. Johnnie Walker – From whisky producer to global icon: the story of ‘Keep Walking’
  3. The gift that keeps on giving: John Lewis Christmas advertising, 2012 - 2015
  4. Foster’s: Tackling men’s worries, with a ‘no-worries’ attitude
  5. Aldi: The Like Brands campaign
  6. Magnum Gold?! How one golden integrated idea sold 130 million ice-creams
  7. Sainsbury’s – How an idea helped make Sainsbury’s great again
  8. Hovis - As good today as it’s ever been
  9. Cadbury – How a drumming gorilla beat a path back to profitable growth: a real-time effectiveness case study
  10. Snickers: You're not you when you're hungry
  11. McDonald's: Getting Britain lovin' it once again
  12. Lynx: Using social media to drive brand loyalty - Facebook campaign
  13. The O2: a new blueprint for sponsorship
  14. Expedia: Travel yourself interesting
  15. Cadbury Dairy Milk - The joy of content: how a new communications model is paying back for Cadbury
  16. HSBC - How a brand idea helped create the world's strongest financial brand
  17. Should’ve Gone to Specsavers: A far-sighted view of advertising’s role in building a business over 30 years
  18. Lloyds TSB - An extraordinary journey: how a simple idea transformed the fortunes of the UK's largest bank
  19. Audi A1 - A big idea, condensed
  20. Wispa - For the love of Wispa: a social media-driven success story