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Awards are not the pur­pose of ad­ver­tis­ing, ar­gues Con Frantzeskos.

worked in the mu­sic in­dus­try for many years, with many glob­ally renowned artists, song­writ­ers, com­posers, pro­duc­ers and mu­si­cians, from Max Martin to Mutt Lange to David Hirschfelder. These cre­ative ti­tans al­ways only ever had one mea­sure of suc­cess: ‘How many units did we sell?’. Awards to them were largely an ir­rel­e­vance.

Ad­ver­tis­ing seems to work the op­po­site way. Many peo­ple claim to be cre­ative, not to sell, but to win awards. Awards are not the pur­pose of ad­ver­tis­ing. Ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies’ only role is to re­duce price elas­tic­ity of de­mand for their clients prod­ucts and ser­vices through in­spir­ing, mem­o­rable, high-reach com­mu­ni­ca­tions. This grows busi­nesses. This in­creases to­tal long-term share­holder re­turn. This builds 100-year brands. That’s what ad­ver­tis­ing does when it’s re­ally, re­ally good.

How­ever, many, many ad agen­cies don’t un­der­stand busi­ness, don’t un­der­stand this con­cept, don’t aim for it, don’t mea­sure it and ul­ti­mately add zero share­holder value. So how do they mea­sure suc­cess? How do they feel like they’re win­ning? Likes, awards, plau­dits of their peers and other empty mea­sures.

And in many, many in­stances, they are so un­fo­cussed, so ut­terly with­out pur­pose or vi­sion that they cre­ate fake work in or­der to win cre­ative awards at Cannes in the hope that they can win clients, do empty work with­out mean­ing and make enough money that they can traipse off to Cannes the next year with a bag­ful of fake work and win cre­ative awards. And so on. So much so that the key per­for­mance in­di­ca­tors of most ad agen­cies are pop­u­lated with awards win met­rics, that awards be­come the sole fo­cus of the agency. ‘Scam’ is even joked about as ‘Strate­gic Cre­ative Ad­ver­tis­ing Mar­ket­ing’. Not do­ing wor­thy work – but mak­ing fake work to win awards. So, the cre­ative awards shows are largely filled with fake work, with or­gan­ised ‘vot­ing blocks’, where coun­tries and hold­ing groups game the vot­ing sys­tems to en­sure their un­der­per­form­ing sec­tors, ge­ogra­phies or brands can win awards. They claim that these cre­ative awards will ‘al­low us to hire bet­ter staff’ or ‘give us pro­file with clients’. How­ever, these just don’t add up.

What adds up is that only ap­prox­i­mately 20 per cent of mar­keters are trusted by their chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cers to drive growth in their busi­ness. That the av­er­age ten­ure of a chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer in a publicly listed com­pany is less than three years. That clients all over the world are wak­ing up to the fact that their tril­lions of likes they cam­paigned so hard for haven’t added to their rev­enues. What adds up is that to grow, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cers in­creas­ingly turn to ac­count­ing firms and other con­sul­tan­cies to pro­vide mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing ser­vices be­cause they un­der­stand busi­ness. What adds up is that ad­ver­tis­ing is los­ing the bat­tle for tal­ent; where will our tal­ent come from un­less our in­dus­try ad­justs course and more agen­cies recog­nise the true, sus­tain­able mea­sures of suc­cess?

Ideas are the most pow­er­ful driver of busi­ness growth, how­ever the most rev­o­lu­tion­ary and amaz­ing ideas in the world to­day aren’t be­ing judged at awards shows in the south of France. They are be­ing judged through the con­sumpt ion of sov­er­eign i ndi­vid­u­als, con­sumers who seek to buy these ideas, frag­mented into the shape of can’t-live-with­out apps, of mem­o­rable songs, of stun­ning prod­uct de­sign, of brave start-ups, of beau­ti­ful stores, of es­sen­tial credit cards. This kind of com­mer­cial cre­ativ­ity – this cre­ative gale of en­trepreneur­ship and cap­i­tal­ist en­deav­our – needs the help of ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies to grow and to f lour­ish. Clients make this in­cred­i­ble stuff; it’s our duty to ex­tract the in­tan­gi­ble value and to in­spire peo­ple to buy it.

What ad­ver­tis­ing cre­ates isn’t wor­thy of award, but it is highly wor­thy of re­ward. Drag a per­son out of their liv­ing room and into your store. Build a web­site that al­lows them to buy some­thing in such a beau­ti­ful and sim­ple way that they’ll do it again. Use data and in­sights to cre­ate and launch 1,000 new in­surance prod­ucts – one for ev­ery sub­urb. Make some­one change the way they drive home to shop in your su­per­mar­ket. Build an app that gives ser­vice staff ev­ery­thing they need to make the ex­pe­ri­ence in­cred­i­ble. In­spire and ed­u­cate clients as to how mar­ket­ing re­ally works. Cre­ate con­tent so use­ful that a mil­lion peo­ple re­fer to it ev­ery year. Give mil­lions a mes­sage so in­sight­ful, res­o­nant and so well branded that they can’t for­get you when they next want to buy your brand of drink. Do this ev­ery day. Find ways to mea­sure it. Find ev­ery day suc­cess. Be re­warded.

The pur­pose of agen­cies needs to move away from the ques­tion­able work epit­o­mised by Grey Sin­ga­pore with its I Sea app (dis­turbingly and pre­dictably given awards at Cannes), and more to­wards recog­nis­ing the real growth and real suc­cess as mea­sured through client rev­enue growth, through client share price growth, through in­creas­ing in­ter­nal rate of re­turn, through de­creas­ing cost per ac­qui­si­tion, through build­ing en­dur­ing ad­ver­tis­ing cre­ative that burns it’s way into the con­scious­ness of peo­ple who don’t care and don’t share, through the suc­cess of con­vinc­ing mil­lions of con­sumers to buy the prod­ucts and ser­vices of clients rather than con­vinc­ing a few giddy cre­ative di­rec­tors sit­ting around a room in Cannes. A true democrati­sa­tion of suc­cess. Real re­ward. Mu­sic to my ears. What ad­ver­tis­ing cre­ates isn’t wor­thy of award, but is highly wor­thy of re­ward, says Penso’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Con Frantzeskos I Con Frantzeskos is chief ex­ec­u­tive of Penso

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