Skinning the effectiveness cat


Content Strategist Vince Usher takes a look the WARC Effective Social Strategy Awards through the lens of the consumer. 

I’m not sure anyone outside of the industry, if given a chance, wouldn’t press a button to remove advertising from ever existing on the earth, and the person who did would be revered by all as a hero for centuries to come. 

All advertisers take for granted the fact that we’re able – without real permission – to interrupt people’s lives with our messaging. 

This is why we’re ethically obliged to look in the mirror and think about what is it is that we’re doing here, it’s also the reason why we’re obliged to put our hands together in order to celebrate the people who manage to do it with virtue (care, craft, merit, morality), in a way that isn’t complete and utter horseshit for the consumer. 

Everyone has a different opinion these days about what effectiveness means in application of advertising.

For the WARC Effective Social Strategy Awards, effectiveness is ‘content strategy that can demonstrate a business outcome’, 'Social strategy that links strategy to business success’, and ‘marketing initiatives that have successfully embraced a brand purpose or achieved commercial success as well as a benefit to the wider community’.

The problem is, most of the work entered into effectiveness awards worldwide, while incredibly creative, clever, or perhaps even an innovative use of technology, isn’t a true example of the most effective campaigns, and rather we’re served what’s more like a competition of what was the most effective, of the most creative campaigns.

If you’re talking purely about effectiveness, you have to put aside all the tech, creative, and innovation for the behavioural change, or business results themselves. Period. Which doesn’t mean an effective campaign can’t be creative, it just means that the horrible, banner led retargeting effort that got 200,000 people to buy a 50% off Nike jumper also has to be considered.

It’s easy to see why they’re left out: While effective, these strategies don’t make us feel very good as advertisers, and it’s for this reason that they’re often not entered in these award programs.

WARC did include strategies like that in the mix, but not without some serious smoke and mirrors first. You’ll see what I mean.

The first of the three Grand Prix winning case studies we look at is an exercise in putting lipstick on a pig, literally a purpose driven campaign that has been forced to masquerade as something that it isn’t – innovative and creative - in order to get a mention. The second campaign is the perfect example of the virtue I’ve been talking about, performance, planning, and creative, all working together to deliver effectiveness while paying real consideration to the intelligence of the consumer. The third, well the third isn’t even an advertising campaign, really it’s a CSR initiative. But it is a great illustration of longer term brand building and platform development.

Content Strategy: Gran Prix. ‘How KFC ‘stole’ a Burger’.

BRAND: KFC Malaysia
AGENCY: Ensemble Worldwide, UM Malaysia
ADVERTISER: QSR Brands (M) Holdings Sdn Bhd
COUNTRY: Malaysia
BUDGET: $1 - $3 Million

Synopsis: KFC Malaysia get smashed by Macca’s in the burger stakes. In response, KFC released two seasonal burger alternatives in order to take a little slice of the market. Traditionally this has failed to prove successful. Ensemble and UM solved this issue by creating the ‘Hot and Cheezy Burger’ campaign. The campaign uses programmatic pre-roll to identify which of the chosen 20 trending videos you’re watching on YouTube and then serves you the most ‘relevant’ dad joke they’ve pre-created as a pre-roll video. This mechanic extends to articles in the paper, and also into social media as an arm of community management.

Was it effective? Ultimately the answer is yes; sales of the burgers rose by 16% W.o.W, but perhaps not for the reason that has been sold. The narrative is that it was the creative, tech and contextuality that was the triumph of the campaign. That engaging millennials and driving organic views made people flock to stores.

Look closer at the data provided in the entry, however, and we get a different view. Of the 10-20 15 Second videos created each week, the completion rate was 35%. That’s 5.4 seconds. Interestingly the mandatory countdown on Youtube skippable pre roll is five seconds, coincidence? Even worse was the click through rate at 0.21%, meaning 99.79% of people exposed didn’t want to click, leaving only your grandma and accidental clicks left over.

So what’s really going on here? The answer is simple; awareness. By spamming users watching the top 20 most trending videos on Youtube, and then retargeting them with a bucketload of more non-contextual, banners afterwards, KFC were able to essentially become omnipresent to Malaysian millennials online. This created massive mental availability which obviously drove sales.

So is the campaign virtuous in its use of advertising? It’s hard to celebrate this campaign as being a new and innovative approach considering that all they did was essentially contextualise some creative the hard way, and serve it programmatically to a very small pool of videos.

But what it does illustrate is that digital banner and pre roll can be effective as long as it’s not blocked and has a weighty budget behind it. It's worth noting that in Malaysia only 8% of desktop and mobile users have ad blockers installed while Australia claims 20% ad blocking penetration*. I would have liked them to be honest about it: The award is effectiveness - instead of making us read between the lines, tell us what really happened.

Social Strategy: Gran Prix. ‘KFC: Dirty Louisiana’. Don’t make dirty good, make clean bad.

AGENCY: BBH London/Blue 449
COUNTRY: United Kingdom
BUDGET: Up to $500k

Synopsis: KFC UK had a new LTO (Limited Time Offer) to push, ‘The Dirty Louisiana Burger’. The problem?  It’s not uncommon that in Australia you’ll hear people referring to KFC as ‘dirty bird’, and in the UK the case is essentially the same. The word ‘dirty’ connotes unhealthy, undesirable, and guilt-ridden eating. This obviously didn’t bode well for the Dirty Louisiana. So, what to do?

The connotation led BBH to one of the oldest tricks in the book: The straw man strategy: If you’re losing an argument, create another argument that you can win. Introducing ‘Figgy Poppleton-Rice’, a fictional influencer created by KFC who appeared to embody the pretentious advocates of clean eating Instagram fame. Figgy was spruiked to have designed a ‘clean eating’ burger with the food chain, that was advertised as a ‘chia seeded cauliflower bun’ with ‘ice cube relish’ and ‘spiralised chicken breast’, the burger was also fictional, and led to a somewhat ironic rally cry of consumers deriding the new menu item in favour of the Dirty Louisiana Burger.

Was the campaign effective? Yes. As a vote of protest KFC’s DL burger surpassed its sales targets by 39%, sold out at 70% of stores, and uniquely reached over 1/3 of the UK. All this for a sixth of KFC Malaysia’s budget. Meaning KFC UK’s campaign did an arguably far superior job.

So was the campaign virtuous? Arguably yes. I say arguably because the campaign managed to do something that traditionally big corporates won’t ever do. Acknowledge their flaws. By illustrating everything that they weren’t, they were essentially embracing and highlighting the problems with what they are, but in a way that felt honest and ultimately endearing.

While there was a bit of retarget spamming going on, it wasn’t the crux of the campaign, and did far more for the brand than just buying eyeballs. Truly content led, it used the social platforms for their true strength; grassroots organic movement, trading up the chain through word of mouth, and leveraging lower tier news. I implore anyone reading this to look at the campaign structure in detail to see how they did this, it’s a masterclass in social planning and strategy.

Brand Purpose: Gran Prix. ‘Whirlpool’s Care Counts: Brand purpose can make a difference.’

BRAND: Whirlpool
AGENCY: DigitasLBi
COUNTRY: North America
BUDGET: $500k - $1 Million

Synopsis: US appliances manufacturer Whirlpool found that that children across the US were missing school because they didn't have access to clean clothes. Having dropped 11% market share by 2014, with new competitors in the mix, Whirlpool quickly saw this as an opportunity to communicate their brand purpose and stand out from the pack. Which is why they created the Care Counts programme. Care Counts worked to install washers and dryers in schools to give disadvantaged students access to laundry facilities to boost attendance rates. They then recorded the facilitation of this and seeded it through social and digital via a short episodic documentary series, and an influencer strategy.

Was it effective? Yes. Whirlpool reclaimed 12% market share after having lost 11%, that’s a success. The program has also moved from an original 47 to 1000 schools America wide, and is growing today.  This is what’s most important, as it’s illustrative of legacy thinking. The effectiveness of the campaign has gone beyond the original intention of just regaining market share, and continues to return on the investment. Care Counts initiated a platform through which Whirlpool could build further campaigns and messaging. Not to be overstated, but un-included in the entry is the influence this has on internal organisational culture, which I have no doubt has been massive in impact.

Was the campaign virtuous? Undoubtedly. But it’s not advertising either. This is a CSR initiative that illustrates exactly what unlocking the power of disparate business units can do for your marketing efforts. With average marketing chief tenures of 2-3.5 years** the planning horizon has shrunken to 2-3 months, which more often than not results in short-termism. Couple this with huge pressure on marketing managers to prove their worth, collaboration on programs becomes very rare. Whirlpool could’ve easily spent their wad on a short term spam campaign, so kudos to the team for the thinking to the future.

Looking back on the entries, what was plainly obvious is the differences in the style of the three Grand Prix winners. Each could be described as either spammy, balanced, or pure CSR. Though, the one thing they all had in common (not being KFC burger campaigns) was that they were all effective campaigns. Some were virtuous, others were not, and it illustrates consequences for all of us. We should all aspire to be effective, but is delivering results for the client is moral enough in itself? We have to respect the consumer as well. As an industry that’s becoming more and more integrated I don’t see why we have to be beholden to the chains of optimisation and spam. Yes it’s hard, but we don’t have to be predatory re-marketers in order to get the job done. There are other, more clever, more creative, more virtuous ways available.

So next time you look at a brief or a media plan, ask yourself, could we be doing something more virtuous here? Are we really treating the consumer like an intelligent human? Or am I just spamming? Thinking this way you might spur change in your teams, have more fun, feel better about your work, and potentially feel better about yourself, you sicko advertising hack. Lol Jks.

*Pagefair, 2017
**Spencer Stuart CMO tenure study 17’


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