Awards aren’t a measure of effectiveness

Marketing is more measurable than PR – how many times have you heard that? 

Well, first there’s the old adage attributed to Lord Leverhulme: “Half my advertising money is wasted. The problem is that I don’t know which half.”  That’s probably an optimistic assessment of much advertising in reality.

The current Thinkbox TV advert for TV advertising is apparently

“the sort of ad that starts conversations about TV ads; which ones we like best; why we remember them above other types of advertising, and how today’s advertisers can successfully plug into this “hard-wiring” phenomenon.”

Yes, the ads featured are ones we remember with affection – the claim that they “are still returning value for their brands despite being some distance form their original air-date” would need to be substantiated.

And, that’s a giant leap to the statement: “If TV can do this for these brands, with the right creative and media, it can do the same for today’s advertisers, delivering results today and in the long term. Nothing else does this quite like telly.”

How many other adverts were broadcast over those years that we fail to recall at all?  Or indeed, how many of these classics only come to mind with a prompt?  For every great advert that stimulates recall, a positive attitude, an opinion change or maybe, at the best, a behavioural outcome – there are millions more that are wallpaper and do not even register on our retinas or eardrums.

I’m not saying that advertising and marketing don’t work, but it’s interesting to see how many times the Thinkbox website makes claims about the effectiveness of TV advertising.  Is measurement only the holy grail of PR – or shouldn’t we be honest and say that much of what is done, particularly in mass communications, will not have an effect.

Well perhaps promotions are more measurable, you might think.  Well, check out the press release for an IPA gold award winning campaign the Highways Agency “Don’t be that Guy” driver awareness campaign.

There are lots of claims here for “effectiveness”, but no measures to demonstrate this.  Okay so the objective was perhaps only at a cognitive level – “to encourage road users to be adequately prepared for their journey”.  But do we know how many heard the message, thought about it – and, to be truly effective – did ensure adequeate preparedness. 

Or take a step back – how many road users before the campaign were unprepared – why was this the case, what was it that demonstrated their lack of preparation, was it a lack of awareness of the need to be prepared, or a knowledge-deficit, or some other barrier?  What research was undertaken to identify what would lead to a change in willingness to prepare? 

The award seems to acknowledge that the campaign “was seen by a large number of drivers” and demonstrated “genuine insight” and “humour of the concept”.  But did it work?

Devising a campaign and targeting “a well-defined segment of the driving population” is about what you do, not what you achieve.

More public money will be spent this summer “with a refreshed message designed to reach a wider audience” – but how do we know that last year’s campaign made any difference?  There certainly could be measures put in place, and maybe there were, but when judging and promoting the campaign as an award winner, these should be central to the rationale.

Arguably, this campaign was actually public relations – which involved promotional activities.  But regardless of whether it is marketing or PR, the same issue applies. 

If we don’t set out clear measurable objectives and undertake research into the current influencers of an attitude or behaviour at the start and end, the chance of our campaigns being effective or even memorable is surely less than 50%.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

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