I worked in the music industry for many years, with many globally renowned artists, songwriters, composers, producers and musicians, from Max Martin to Mutt Lange to David Hirschfelder.
These creative titans always only ever had one measure of success: ‘How many units did we sell?’.
To them awards were largely an irrelevance. Advertising seems to work the opposite way. Many people claim to be creative – not to sell, but to win awards. Awards are not the purpose of advertising. The only role of advertising agencies is to reduce price elasticity of demand for their clients products and services through inspiring, memorable, high-reach communications.
This grows businesses. This increases total, long-term shareholder return. This builds 100-year brands. That’s what advertising does when it’s really, really good.
However, many, many ad agencies don’t understand business, don’t understand this concept, don’t aim for it, don’t measure it and ultimately add zero shareholder value.
So how do they measure success? How do they feel like they’re winning? Through Likes, awards, plaudits of their peers and other empty measures.
And in many, many instances, they are so unfocused, so utterly without purpose or vision that they create fake work in order to win creative awards at Cannes in the hope that they can win clients, do empty work without meaning and make enough money that they can traipse off to Cannes the next year with a bagful of fake work and win creative awards.And so on.
So much so that the KPIs of most ad agencies are populated with awards win metrics, so that awards become the sole focus of the agency. ‘Scam’ is even joked about as ‘Strategic Creative Advertising Marketing’. Not doing worthy work – but making fake work to win awards.
So, the creative awards shows are largely filled with fake work, with organised ‘voting blocks’, where countries and holding groups game the voting systems to ensure their underperforming sectors, geographies or brands can win awards.
They claim these creative awards will ‘allow us to hire better staff’ or ‘give us profile with clients’. However, these just don’t add up.
What adds up is that only approximately 20% of marketeers are trusted by their CEOs to drive growth in their business. That the average tenure of a CMO in a publicly-listed company is less than three years.
That clients all over the world are waking up to the fact that the trillions of Likes they campaigned so hard for haven’t added to their revenues.
What adds up is that to grow, CEOs increasingly turn to accounting firms and other consultancies to provide marketing and advertising services because they understand business.
What adds up is that advertising is losing the battle for talent; where will our talent come from unless our industry adjusts course and more agencies recognise the true, sustainable measures of success?
Ideas are the most powerful driver of business growth, but the most revolutionary and amazing ideas in the world today aren’t being judged at awards shows in the south of France; they are being judged through the consumption of sovereign individuals, consumers who seek to buy these ideas, fragmented into the shape of can’t-live-without apps, of memorable songs, of stunning product design, of brave start-ups, of beautiful stores, of essential credit cards.
This kind of commercial creativity – this creative gale of entrepreneurship and capitalist endeavour – needs the help of advertising agencies to grow and to flourish. Clients make this incredible stuff, it’s our duty to extract the intangible value and to inspire people to buy it.
What advertising creates isn’t worthy of award, but it is highly worthy of reward. Drag a person out of their living room and into your store. Build a website that allows them to buy something in such a beautiful and simple way that they’ll do it again.
Use data and insights to create and launch 1,000 new insurance products – one for every suburb.
Make someone change the way they drive home to shop in your supermarket. Build an app that gives service staff everything they need to make the experience incredible. Inspire and educate clients as to how marketing really works.
Create content so useful that a million people refer to it every year. Give millions a message so insightful, resonant and so well branded that they can’t forget you when they next want to buy your brand of drink. Do this every day. Find ways to measure it. Find every day success. Be rewarded.
The purpose of agencies needs to move away from the disgusting work epitomised by Grey Singapore with its ‘I Sea’ app – disturbingly and predictably awarded at Cannes – and towards recognising the real growth and real success as measured through: client revenue growth; client share price growth; increasing internal rate of return, decreasing cost per acquisition; enduring advertising creative that burns its way into the consciousness of people who don’t care and don’t share; to convincing millions of consumers to buy the products and services of clients instead of a few giddy creative directors sitting in a room in Cannes.
A true democratisation of success. Real reward. Music to my ears.