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Triumph of the blue-chips & home front wars

19 Oct 2020  |  Dominic Mills 
Triumph of the blue-chips & home front wars

Dominic Mills looks at trends emerging from this year's IPA Effectiveness Awards and why he may head to Dunelm for a sofa in the New Year

I suppose the first observation to be made about the winners of last week’s IPA Effectiveness Awards is that overall they represent the triumph of the blue-chips.

What I mean by this is that the winners  — agencies, creative and media, and clients — mostly comprise big players who traditionally have done well at the awards: the effectiveness establishment, if you like.

In part, I think, this is down to current circumstances. Entering the Effectiveness Awards is hard enough even in normal times. It’s also something that tends to get embedded in organisation culture and the skills passed down from cohort to cohort. When times are tough, as now, there’s other things to do — survival, for instance, or ramping up client service that make writing a 4,000-word entry a big ask.

In previous years though, we’ve seen winners drawn from a broader spectrum of the agency and client world, as well as some surprises.

So putting aside a quick toot toot for everyone who entered in this unusual year, let’s note these things:

Agencies with a strong track record at the IPA Effectiveness Awards continued to do well: BBH, AMV, A&E, Mother, Grey, McCann and Ogilvy.

Some may consider MullenLowe, named Effectiveness Network of the Year and winner of three prizes, a bit of an outlier. But not if you take in its Lowe and DLKW roots, plus the effectiveness commitment of its senior team.

However, some agencies that have done well in the past  — Publicis, Saatchi & Saatchi, for example — are noticeably absent.

Diageo, which won prizes for Guinness, Gordon’s, Baileys and its portfolio, has clearly built an effectiveness culture that runs through its business — and isn’t afraid to tell the world about it.

The latter point is relevant: some clients have historically been shy about entering these awards for fear, I suspect, of giving away the secret sauce (usually an exaggerated fear).

Not so Diageo, which seems to be saying: a) to potential competitors that they’ll have a tough time marketing their way onto its turf and b) to any potential agency partners that they better be pretty committed to effectiveness…otherwise they won’t get any work.

Media agencies continue to perform well — more as joint authors of papers this time, it seems — but it’s still the usual suspects: Mediacom, MG OMD, Carat, Wavemaker, 7stars.

Aside from the Kite Factory, which has always been a highly performance-focused outfit (and thus effectiveness oriented), new names are absent.

One observation (which doesn’t apply to the winners here obviously), is that media agencies sometimes conflate media effectiveness with business effectiveness. They’re not the same, and until they can grasp that, we may not see too many new names in these lists.

The Lord loves a good turnaround story, and so do the judges. Roughly half the winners have either gone, or are in the process of doing so, from zero to hero: Tesco, Gordon’s, NHS, Tango, Wagamama, Volvo (sort of), Lloyds (maybe), Royal Navy.

But the awards also celebrate growth stories too — some, like Guinness, Aldi, John Lewis and Audi, in the long-term — others less so.

The next awards, in two years time, will cover at least some of the time of COVID, and it will be fascinating to see how they reflect the growth of certain types of brands — e-commerce, food delivery and so on — as well as those demonstrating resilience or a turnaround.

Talking of which, while you can’t underestimate the scale and achievement in turning around a semi-marooned supertanker like Tesco, it’s worth pointing out that its market share, as of now, stands at 26.9% versus 28.3% five years ago.

Aldi, by contrast, which won a bronze award for its performance since 2010, has gone from 2% in 2010 to 5.6% in 2015 to 8% now.

What was that I said about the power of a turnaround story?

Not so quiet on the home front

Anybody wanting to buy a sofa in time, say for Christmas, is going to be disappointed. As this piece from the Guardian says, sofa-makers are going gang-busters.

So too is the wider home market - a combination of number of trends, of which one is that this is traditionally home-improvement season.

But perhaps more potent are the others: rising house prices; an uptick in house sales; a cut in stamp duty at the lower end of the market; a cultural shift induced by the rise of the home office; and the fact that some households have more disposable income thanks to cancelled holidays, not going out and so on.

A new John Lewis campaign last month sought to tap into this trend.

But the home wars are hotting up, and here’s the latest effort from Dunelm, an altogether lower-profile player in the market but one which has been making steady ground in the last few years. It’s come a long way from its roots as a market stall in Leicester.

Here’s the ad a well-observed collection of household and family vignettes which catch the zeitgeist under the headline ‘Home. We get it’.

I particularly like the dad stepping painfully on plastic toy bricks (who hasn’t?) and the woman karate-chopping her cushions into shape. It’s warm, unthreatening and reflects the messiness of life, as well as the new importance we place on the home environment.

The new ad is by MullenLowe, which seems to be adroitly shepherding Dunelm into a growth spurt.

Like many retailers, it suffered an initial blip in lockdown, but has since rebounded strongly, with sales in the latest quarter up 37% and a share price up about 80% in the last six months.

Dunelm didn’t enter the year’s Effectiveness Awards. But if it sustains the current performance, it’ll have a great story in 2022 — if growth stories are still in fashion then.

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