Q&A with Effies president Neal Davies: Brave work is usually the most effective

Neal DaviesNeal Davies is president and CEO of Effie Worldwide, an advertising effectiveness awards programme that launched in New York in 1968 and held the latest in its relatively new series of APAC Effies in Singapore last week.

In a Q&A with Mumbrella in Singapore before the APAC Effies last week, the former founding partner of Naked Communications New York and marketing director of Kodak was asked what makes an Effie more worth winning than a Creative Effectiveness Lion, why there weren’t more creatives on the judging line-up, rewarding bravery that isn’t effective, and why some agencies are pulling back from awards shows.

Cannes is now giving out Lions for effectiveness. So, which is worth more – Cannes Creative Effectiveness Lion or Effie Gold?

effies awardsCannes LionsI think if you were to ask a client or an agency of the plethora of awards that are out there, with new awards shows launching every week seemingly, ‘what are the important ones to win?’ you’d have shortlist of two pretty quickly. Which is a Cannes Lion for creativity and an Effie for effectiveness.

I think that’s pretty consistent across the globe. One celebrates the craft of our industry, which should never be diminished or ignored, and the other celebrates the purpose of our industry, which is how that craft is applied to commercial areas.

I’m never going to criticise someone else’s effectiveness awards other than to say, we’re the gold standard for effectiveness in the same way that Cannes is the gold standard for creativity. I don’t think an Effie creative award would be seen with sufficient credibility…

I’m a huge fan of Cannes, of what they do and how they do it. I think the thing with [Cannes] Creative Effectiveness is that it’s based on work that’s submitted to the Lions anyway, which you can also prove a [effectiveness] case for. Rather than Effie, which is purely about: can you prove a case that it works across the board? So it comes from a much broader pool rather than just the ones that happen to look beautiful and have been entered into Cannes.

One observation put to me by a regional agency boss who is very fond of effectiveness and awards shows that reward it is that the APAC Effies has very few creatives on its judging panel – the judges are either clients, agency bosses or effectiveness specialists. This seems to suggest that creativity and commerce are two separate things, to be judged differently. What’s your response to this?

The comment you’ve made is reasonably specific to APAC. There are 47 Effie programmes around the world; individual national programmes, the regional and global formats, plus Positive Change [a newly introduced Effies format that rewards sustainability-conscious work].

I think that the nature of APAC means that the people who are prepared to get on a plane to come to Singapore to judge – appreciating that this isn’t always an easy thing for them to do – tend to be the people you’ve described.

The winner of Grand Effie at the APAC awards show went to BBDO India’s work for P&G brand Ariel.

Coming from Britain, I think in the UK there is that, ‘it’s either creative or it’s effective,’ church and state mentality. I think this is driven by the purity of the IPA Effectiveness Awards (which I think is a phenomenal institution for which you shouldn’t be given an award, you should get a doctorate for completing) and driven by the purity of the D&AD and its regard for the creative process.

In a lot of other markets, you’ll see that there’s less of that church and state mentality, there’s more of a blurred line and a lot more intersection on the venn diagram of planning and creativity.

If Effie was purely about effectiveness [30% of the case is weighted for results, the rest is divided among criteria including creativity] you could just email a spreadsheet with a few numbers on it. Effectiveness by itself without the context of what we do for a living in the marketing and advertising industry doesn’t tell the full story.

The Mumbrella Asia Awards has an award for bravery – for a brand trying something outside of its comfort zone. But to win the outcome does not necessarily have to have proved effective. The idea is to encourage more risk taking. What do you make of that approach?

My main thought about awards is not just about rewarding those who’ve earned it, but the message sent to the rest of the industry. A bravery award reassures people that it’s ok to do something different, or at least try something different. We’ve seen from the Effies that brave work is usually the most effective.

Thrown out at Spikes: 'Water drop ads' for Domino's Pizza

Thrown out at Spikes: ‘Water drop ads’ for Domino’s Pizza

At Spikes a few years ago, it emerged that an entry from Korea for Domino’s Pizza was thrown out by the jury for its outrageous results claims. What’s your view on results-fudging and how does Effie tackle it?

Effie’s legal expert in New York, Erica Stoppenbach, always says: everyone thinks it’s easy to write your way to Effies success. By, for instance, turning the case video into a film trailer. She says that the more time you spend writing cases, the more chance there is of writing them out of success, because they don’t provide the right context for the information judges need to make a decision.

I would say 90% of the feedback we take each year, that we then feed back out to entrants is: simplify what you write and how you write it, don’t leave questions unanswered, give it to someone else to read who doesn’t work in your department. Give it to your partner agencies and the client, give it to your partner when you get home.

Is it clear what you’re saying? People writing themselves out of success is more of a worry to me than the issue you raise.

Our role is to provide a forum for the industry to come together to keep itself honest. We had the grand jury here [in Singapore] yesterday for Positive Change awards. You’re bound to get someone who’s massaged the results, but if you’ve got sufficient people in the room who have the expertise and the experience to spot it, they’ll call bullshit on it. There aren’t many people who dare to enter something that is bullshit, because they know the degree of scrutiny it’s going to come under. There is a self-policing element to Effie. You can’t push it.

Kassaei: 'Stop the madness'

Kassaei: ‘Stop the madness’

Some agencies have very publicly pulled back on awards, for instance the global creative head of DDB’s recent ‘stop the madness’ statement. Others are also pulling back too. What do you make of this?

I completely understand that since there are so many awards out there, people have to prioritise. And they do so by either cutting back altogether, or focusing on specific awards.

I’m very aware/proud of the fact that when they do, they tend to focus on us, because of the intrinsic value of Effie. There are other award programmes that might be more concerned that me.

In our longer standing awards programmes, for example North America, which has been around since 1968, the trend is upwards for entries. But you tend to find that there’s a dip each year. You get peaks and troughs, although there’s an element of agencies that entered one year didn’t enter the next, because they didn’t win. And then they enter again the next year.

To the DDB comment. They might just focus on Cannes and Effie. They’ve been engaged in quite a few Effies programmes this year, and they’re an important brand in our business. Or they might take a year out. There’s a reality of Effie and Cannes as a shop window for new business and for clients.

In November I got an email from a friend from back home. He asked me if I’d watched Newsnight the night before. There was a segment on a parliamentary report on building the third runway at Heathrow. They had leaders of British commerce on the programme to give their views on the story. One was Sir Martin [Sorrell, the head of WPP]. He was live from WPP’s headquarters in West London, and this was the screen grab.

Sorrell on Newsnight

There is nothing Martin does that isn’t meticulously thought out. There are a lot of awards shows, and the ones that are growing are those that consistently create value and have value, and ours is one of those.

There’s a tremendous amount of upheaval going on in the agency business right now, with wide-scale restructuring going on among traditional players. How is Effie moving with the times to reward players outside of the traditional realm, such as ad tech players or giants such as Google, Facebook and Tencent who are proving particularly effective? Aren’t the most effective marketers engineers these days?

I completely agree. There are two levels to that. Effie has evolved from rewarding advertising that rewarding marketing communications. I’d probably just use the word marketing. It’s one of those thoughts that actually means you’re going back to square one. The four Ps [product, price, place, promotion] of marketing haven’t actually changed in the 100 or so year history of the discipline. Those four things mean that everything communicates.

I’m using old Naked language that Harlow [John Harlow was one of Naked’s founders who passed away in August 2013] came up with, God rest his soul. The name Naked is interesting in that, besides initially giving giggles to receptionists, came from the idea that because of technology, brands are naked in the eyes of the consumer, so you had to behave in a different way.

We used to say in our creds, you could hide behind the only interface that the brand had with its audience – the 30 second TV spot or the print ad or the billboard or whatever – but now because of technology all the other stories that you wanted to keep quiet, you can’t keep quiet. So if you had a poor environmental record or manufactured using child labour or simply consumers rated your rival’s products as better than yours, that information was available in less than a second on Google. After acknowledging that brands are naked, you have to acknowledge that everything communicates, and you’re back to the four Ps. Packaging, or a piece of engineering, is as important as anything else.

Effies Positive ChangeI did the final round for Positive Change in London last week. One of the suggestions that the judges came up with reward ideas like the Tesla launch, the most successful car launch in history – with no marketing. They didn’t run any billboards or make any ads, but their outreach suggests a predetermined positioning they were putting out there, achieved in a different way. The engineering was the marketing.

We have moved on from being just an advertising awards organisation, and I think that our role is to keep working with the industry to define the breadth and scope of what marketing means.


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