A chance for AMV to stick two fingers up at Sainsbury's

12 Sep 2016  |  Dominic Mills 
A chance for AMV to stick two fingers up at Sainsbury's

There's set to be a lot of drama in the room at this year's IPA Effectiveness Awards, writes Dominic Mills - starting with Sainsbury's and newly-dumped agency of 35 years, AMV BBDO

They say revenge is a dish best eaten cold, but lukewarm is better than nothing, even if the occasion will be accompanied by the usual awards-circuit rubber chicken.

That occasion may well come in November at the IPA's biennial Effectiveness Awards ceremony, a little less than three months after AMV BBDO was dumped by its client of 35 years, Sainsbury's.

For there, among the 39 campaigns shortlisted last week by the IPA, are the last two Christmas efforts by AMV for the supermarket, the controversial Christmas Truce from 2014 (which I loved) and the fluffy Mog's Christmas Calamity from 2015 - which I hated.

Judging by the synopses of the shortlisted entries, AMV has a good case to make. It says both Christmas campaigns outperformed those of its big four rivals, and generated a profit ROI of more than £24 per £1 invested.

And wouldn't victory be sweet, a glorious two fingers for AMV to wave at Sainsbury's.

But if there is on-stage drama, there may also be plenty of etiquette-related drama on the floor of the Hilton Bankside. Will AMV have invited any Sainsbury's staff to attend as their guests? Do they accept?

Perhaps they will take the safe option and stay away, or maybe join the table of their new best friends, Wieden+Kennedy, who are also up for an award for telecoms client Three.

If AMV wins, will they stand up and make obscene hand gestures (of triumph, obviously) in the direction of any Sainsbury's staff or W+K? AMV is far to well-bred for that, so I suspect they will have to content themselves by muttering 'bastards' under their breath and ordering jeroboams of bubbly.

But that, I am happy to say, will not be the only drama playing out in SE1 that evening. For in another part of the room will be AMV's fellow Omnicom agency, and co-tenants of the building they share, TBWA\London, whose work for Lidl is also up for a gong.

Its entry also centres on Lidl's 2015 Christmas campaign which, on the face of it, didn't generate the anything like the same returns as Sainsbury's - a mere £1.97 of net profit return per £1 invested for 2015, rising to an anticipated £5.20 for 2016.

I say on the face of it, because the Lidl figures are explicitly net, while the Sainsbury's figures - of a significantly larger magnitude - are unspecified.

One possibility is that they are gross; another, more common in the supermarket trade, is that they are marginal, which assumes that all overheads (i.e. fixed costs like property, staff and so on) are already covered.

As I understand it, marginal profit in the supermarket trade is typically around 20-25 pc. Let's hope that the judges aren't fooled by this sleight of hand.

The idea of self-defining your competitive set and then excluding your two fastest-growing rivals seems, at the very best, disingenuous"

There is, I fear, also another bit of jiggery-pokery in the way, according to synopsis, Sainsbury's defines its competitive set. It says "Sainsbury's outperformed [over the relevant Christmas periods] its big four rivals in value and volume share."

Hmmm, but what constitutes its rival set? Tesco, Asda and Morrison's, yes, but who is the fourth? The Co-op or Waitrose or one of Aldi and Lidl? I'm guessing it is neither Aldi or Lidl, both of which had outstanding Christmas performances in 2014 and 2015 and took share from everyone, Sainsbury's included.

Here's a report on 2014 Christmas trading and one on 2015, which shows that all the major supermarkets lost share (including Sainsbury's) and the only winners were Waitrose, Aldi and Lidl.

So this idea of self-defining your competitive set and then excluding your two fastest-growing rivals seems, at the very best, disingenuous, and the kind of thing effectiveness judges need to read between the lines very carefully to mark.

What else might they be looking out for? Well, an entry from Australian swimming pool builder Narellan Pools, claims an incremental ROI of A$54 (!!!) for every A$1 invested. Remarkable, and gold all over, surely?

But how do judges balance the difference between cases that focus on sales, which this figure represents, and those which focus on profit - on the gross, marginal, net or any other variety? As they say, sales is vanity, profit is sanity.

Here are some other issues thrown up by looking at the shortlist.

- By volume of entries, the list is led by the usual suspects: adam&eveDDB with five, followed by AMV BBDO and Grey each with four, and Ogilvy, JWT and Karmarama with two each.

It's good to see a relative newcomers like Karmarama and 101 (one shortlist) getting some traction. It would be good to see more of the so-called new wave.

- Media agencies, led by OMD/Manning Gottlieb OMD (three entries) do OK with nine shortlisted entries, but not as well as in previous years. Only OMD UK, for Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, is sole author of a shortlisted entry. Mediacom is conspicuous by its absence. Nothing from PHD either.

- There are plenty of shortlisted entries where a significant part of the campaign is digital (rarely exclusively so) but no entries from UK digital agencies. Two years ago I made this point and obviously irritated some Queen Bee of the digital world.

The point still stands: why don't digital agencies try harder to prove their effectiveness? After all, it's the medium that's convinced itself it's both effective and accountable.

- M&C Saatchi has been shortlisted for its work for the Tories in the 2015 election. Its paper focuses on the effect of advertising in target seats, rather than the bigger-picture stuff. Fascinating.

This is, to my knowledge, the first time any agency has ever entered a political campaign. One reason might be that no party ever wished to give away too much of its trade secrets to the opposition - but as there isn't one currently, this doesn't seem to be a problem.

No doubt too that M&C, which has lost its lustre of late, can tout its prize to, say, Angela Merkel or Francois Hollande, both of whom could do with some help.

- Finally, BBH's shortlisted entry for the Guardian and Observer newspapers claims its 'Own the Weekend' campaign generated £4.8m of long-term incremental revenue for the papers and a profit return on media investment of £1.83.

Brilliant. Given that the Guardian is currently losing about £1m a week, why doesn't it do more of this? Weekly losses would be reduced to, roughly, £982,000 per week.

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