Post-awards, post-purpose: Will purpose focused work win out if there aren’t awards on the line?

As the issue of awards cheating rears its head yet again, Oglivy's Alex Watts considers exactly where creative would land in a post-awards world.

If anyone won Cannes this year, it was McCann New York’s Fearless Girl. The street statue, which was commissioned by investment firm State Street Global Advisors as a statement about gender diversity in the workplace, won 18 lions in total, including four grand prix. It set a standard that’s hard to beat.

More than that, it cements a long established (and long awarded) industry trend: advertising with a purpose at the core.

It’s not hard to find other examples – Like A Girl from Always, or Worlds Apart from Heineken. All of this work lives and breathes in convincing the audience that the brand believes in the cause, and is doing what they can to change the world.

McCanns’ Fearless Girl was created by artist Kristen Visbal

But if these weren’t a factor, would purpose focused work still win out?

This isn’t necessarily a hypothetical – WPP plc and Publicis have spent 2017 considering their position in the awards circuit.

And just yesterday, the boss of media agency Atomic 212 was publicly called out by Mumbrella for cheating on numerous awards entries. 

Events like these naturally result in a question mark over the value of awards, and the creation of the type of work they tend to favour.

A changed landscape

Some of the world’s best creative and digital agencies are currently being snapped up in the consultancy land grab. You can track the history of those purchases here, but probably the most relevant one for Australia was Accenture picking up The Monkeys for $63m.

Time will tell if these changes in structure will impact how agencies enter awards, but it raises a broader question – what distinguishes agencies from consultancies as we move into 2018? I doubt anyone is thinking award shows are the answer.

The sharpest tool in the shed

There’s another pressure on purpose-driven advertising in the work of Byron Sharp. Sharp argues that the majority of your consumers are not loyal – to the tune of 80% – and that the volume of sales instead comes from light, infrequent consumers.

If this holds true, work that focuses on driving loyalty misses the mark – and some of the best purpose-driven work focuses on this by establishing a link between the consumer and the brand. If that doesn’t drive sales, why would you do it?

The perceived risk of having purpose

There’s also the chance you’ll miss the mark – and that chance turns a lot of brands away. Just look at the wealth of brands who whiffed it during the marriage equality Postal Survey. Whether it’s inconsistency like OOH Media and the AFL, atonal partnerships like Coopers, or odd product placements like Magnum. For some, this chance of failure is the biggest barrier to delivering work with a purpose focus.

And, in some ways, that is a valid fear – the line that separates a hit from a miss is thin. But then you look at the home runs. GayNZ works because it’s part of a long-term commitment to community. Bundaberg Rum nailed it as well – even though it’s a newer association for them.

The volume of conversation, consideration, and positive association these brands build by having and authentic purpose has a value – and while not as easily measured as point of sale, or local area marketing, it is possible to prove the impact of this work.

The right judgement

Sharp is right about at least one thing – we shouldn’t judge our success on engagement alone, or on the idea that brand campaigns drive loyalty. As we move into 2018, it’s important that teams on both sides of the agency/client/consultancy divide put more rigour into how they define and measure success – particularly, on social.

Worlds Apart has 14 million views on Youtube – reflecting a substantial reach result. More impressively, Like A Girl sits at 64 million. These two examples start to build a case for purpose-driven work that exists beyond award shows – in the reach they drive, and the brands they help build.

The case study for Fearless Girl charts over five billion impressions for the campaign in the first 12 weeks – a staggering amount of reach. Of course, most of this coverage neglects to mention the brand, but if even 10% did… those are still good numbers.

Don’t forget the makers

The teams behind these purpose-driven campaigns aren’t doing it just for the awards – they’re highlighting real issues, and sometimes solving them in real ways. Will that stop because the awards go away? I’d say no. Sure, the volume of purpose-driven award scams might reduce – but that’s probably a good thing. The optimist would say we’ll land in a position more focused authentic work, and that’s good for everyone.

Where do we land?

We might be post-award moving into 2018, but we’re not post-purpose. There’s a place for work that connects with people who happen to be consumers, and the people making it in agencies and on the brand side – we’ve just got to make sure we’re measuring the right things, and choosing authentic purposes to support.

Alex Watts is head of social at Ogilvy.


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