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Dominic Mills 

Effectiveness culture; and the things they only say in ads 

Effectiveness culture; and the things they only say in ads 

Dominic Mills analyses who made the grade to achieve an IPA effectiveness culture kite mark and asks for reader suggestions for things they only say in ads

Last week, the IPA announced a list of 19 agencies to which it had awarded an effectiveness culture kite mark, in practice a Good Housekeeping-style stamp of approval demonstrating that the agencies had a rigorous methodology for proving effectiveness. 

My first reaction was what a good idea. My second, looking closely at the list, was surprise: absent were several names I would have expected to see there, and present were some I hadn’t or didn’t know about (my bad, no doubt).

Here’s the list…

•Anything is Possible



•Hunterlodge Advertising

•Leo Burnett


•Medialab Group


•Running Total

•Talon Outdoors

•The Corner

•The Kite Factory

•The&Partnership and m/SIX



•True Agency


•Wunderman Thompson


I’ll come back to the make-up of the list shortly, but first a little background.

The initiative is part of new president Julian Douglas’s manifesto, and comes just ahead of the IPA’s upcoming Eff Works extravaganza next month. 

The main part covers the findings from an exercise to measure overall effectiveness culture among the industry and provide agencies (and clients) with a roadmap as to how they can improve it. 

Generally, the IPA is positive about the overall state of affairs and highlights a recurring theme, which is that taking a balanced approach to long- and short-term activity is the best way to build long-term brand health. No surprises there. 

Nor are there many surprises in the directional signs the IPA lays out in the roadmap — get started immediately, and get buy-in from senior management, for example.

The latter, of course, sounds obvious but I’ve had many conversation with agency leaders where they’ve sworn of their commitment to effectiveness only to find out from those who actually have to do the work that it’s only skin deep.

In my experience, the ones who mean it are those with a planning background or where planning is well-represented at the top. Of course it’s difficult, expensive and resource-hungry, but what’s the point otherwise? 

I should also say, lest there is a danger we forget, that a long-term and unstinting focus on effectiveness is not only the key to a successful industry but also the thing that makes the IPA such an exemplary trade body. 

OK, to the list.

To get on it, agencies had to demonstrate to the judges — a highly qualified bunch, led by Unilever’s head of global marketing capability, Jo Royce — that they passed the necessary benchmarks. 

I had expected therefore to see names like adam&eveDDB, AMV, Ogilvy, Publicis, Mullen Lowe, Lucky Generals, Wavemaker, Mindshare and others - all agencies with strong planning cultures and decent track records over the 30 years or so that the Effectiveness Awards have been going. 

Discreet to the last (annoyingly, from my view…but that’s my particular axe to grind) the IPA won’t tell me the names of those who applied and didn’t get through, or indeed how many. 

So we can’t conclude that their absence means they didn’t pass the requisite tests or whether they didn’t apply.

After all, what with Covid and all that, agency time and resources have been under pressure like never before: entry may have been just one thing too much to do.

The only thing I could glean from the IPA was that “quite a few” rejects were from newer members, which suggests that they have yet to get the hang of what is the difficult and, often, stressful business of effectiveness.  

None of that takes away from those who did get the kite mark. And aside from the presence of usual suspects like BBH, Leo Burnett and VCCP, well known for their commitment to effectiveness, there are three points to make. 

One, almost half are media agencies including less well-known names like Running Total (mainly performance) and The Kite Factory, which to me underlines the way some (but not all) have moved from measuring eyeballs and impacts to outcomes. 

Two, the joint entry from The&Partnership and its sister media agency m/Six, which is a reminder that most effective work is usually the result of two or more agencies working in partnership.  

And three, the presence of smaller or specialist agencies — Hunterlodge, Anything is Possible, True or Talon, for example.

One of the reasons the awards themselves tend to be dominated by larger agencies is because the smaller ones often can’t get the right data to prove their case, or they don’t have the resources to write the entries. But that doesn’t mean they don’t do effective work or seek to. The kite mark is therefore a potentially powerful slide to add to their creds decks. 

Since it is in the IPA’s (and the industry’s) long-term interest to spread an effectiveness culture as far and wide as possible, the IPA has offered those agencies that didn’t make the cut the opportunity for feedback sessions from the judges. 

The kite mark runs over a two-year period so we’ll find out find out in 2023 a) whether the feedback sessions worked b) whether it’s a desirable badge and c) whether those currently on the list have sustained their commitment. 

In the meantime, the next IPA effectiveness awards shortlist will make interesting reading. Which of those with and without the kite mark are on it…but that’s not till 2022. Damn. 

Things they only say in ads #1

Hat tip to P.S. for suggesting a new item for the column, to be published as and when examples are e-mailed in or spring to mind. 

It’s based on the language of ad-speak, aka the things people only say in ads.

“Clinically proven” is one example, and often features in people talking about toothpaste or some kind of cosmeceutical. As if you would ever a) talk to people about toothpaste or b) use those words conversationally in conjunction with one another.   

This week, and annoyingly I can’t find the ad (I think it’s a C4 house porn ident), is the term “enjoy cordless freedom” for a Bosch drill. 

It was legendary marketing guru, Professor Ted Levitt who highlighted the flaw in this kind of thinking: “people don’t want 1/4-inch drills; they want 1/4-inch holes.” 

Here, Jeremy Bullmore — via a blog — teasingly explains the planner-speak behind it: “Product satisfaction arises less from inherent construction and performance than consumers’ internalised perceptions of personal utility.”  

Come to think of it, planner-speak is worse than ad-speak.

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