Opinion

Godhart’s law and awards

My wife was watching breakfast TV, and for some reason they mentioned Davina McCall (a British television presenter).

Cathy said to me “Who’s Davina McCall?”

I said “I think she’s the one in the shampoo ads”

Cathy said “Oh that’s right: Head & Shoulders.”

I said “No, I think it’s one of the more expensive ones.”

Cathy said “Pantene maybe?”

I said “Could be.”

Cathy said “Or L’Oreal, it’s probably L’Oreal.”

I said “Probably”

Then it occurred to me that we’d just had a conversation about video vampire.

‘Video vampire’ was what celebrity ads used to be called years ago in New York.

Because the celebrity took over from the product being sold and acted like a vampire.

The brand was paying for the ads but you remembered the celebrity not what they were selling.

The Davina McCall ad was like that.

We remembered Davina McCall but we couldn’t remember what she was selling.

But the agency and client probably think it’s a successful ad.

I bet consumers say “I like that Davina McCall ad”.

So it’s seen as a success.

But the ad is selling Davina McCall more than the brand.

That’s video vampire.

And then it occurred to me that most advertising now suffers from the video vampire effect.

Only nowadays it’s usually not celebrities.

It’s an artistic execution, or a humorous device, or a catchy piece of music, or a new technique from YouTube.

The whole point of advertising being to win an award.

And the award has become the new video vampire.

Where everyone in advertising is more intrigued or excited by the stylish use of an innovative execution than selling a product.

So that’s how the ad will be remembered and discussed.

“The ad with the amazing animation.”

“The ad with the great soundtrack.”

“The ad with the fantastic editing technique.”

“The ad with the longest pullout you’ve ever seen”

Whichever brand paid for the ad is irrelevant.

It’s even treated as irrelevant by the agency.

The name of the brand is invisible until the last 2 seconds, and then shown as discreetly as possible.

So as not to spoil the ad.

So awards have become the new video vampire.

Because all anyone in advertising cares about is awards.

That’s become the advertising industry’s routine way of operating.

That’s now how we judge ads.

Because having an award-winning ad will make the agency famous.

So winning awards is the target.

It used to be the measurement, but now it’s the thing we aim for.

And what happens when awards become the target?

As economist Charles Goodhart said “When a metric becomes the target it ceases to be a good measure.”

Dave Trott is a consultant, author and former ad agency creative director. This article was first published on his blog

ADVERTISEMENT

SUBSCRIBE

Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing