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July, 2017
Popping my Apex cherry

So, I recently completed my first foray as an APEX Awards judge for the ACA. The APEX Awards evaluate communications campaigns based on their effectiveness in improving the client’s bottom line.

To say the experience was intimidating is to put it mildly. It started off easily enough: a nice steak and a good wine, accompanied by some useful advice provided by Odette van der Haar (CEO of ACA) to read one case study a day.

As the deadline was looming for round one judging, where I had to read only eight case studies, I began to wonder why we weren’t taught how to speed read in high school. I found myself on Friday night, the deadline being the following Monday at 12 pm, staring at a stack of case studies and telling myself, “Just one more glass of wine. That will relax my mind and get me thinking objectively”. Suffice it to say, no APEXing happened on that Friday…

On Saturday morning I woke up in a panic, aware that I had only 48 hours to carefully digest all of this new information and give a fair critique. So, as my SO was heading to a lazy lunch in Parkhurst, I sat myself down at the dining table and starting calculating all of the incentives I would reward myself with per case study read and adjudicated. After reading and rating two case studies, I could have a triple chocolate sundae. After the next two, a snack pack of Oreos®. After the next two, a glass of wine. And after the final two, the rest of the bottle. I managed to make it through them all that Saturday!

Feeling like a consummate judge, I looked forward to the entries that would make up round two, calm in the knowledge that a shortlist meant fewer entries than the first round. I was misguided. This time, I was determined to follow Odette’s advice and go through one per day.

I dutifully started the first week with one a day. Success! The second week, I managed to read through two a day. Progress! The following weekend I travelled out of town; case studies in tow. Dedication! I read one.

With the deadline a mere three days away, the printed copies by my bedside had begun to taunt me. I diligently cleared away all evidence of any social life and committed to spending my weekend fulfilling my responsibility.

In the midst of all of the procrastination, a slight insecurity around my numerical literacy and a flu-shot-induced fever, I managed to do what I came to do. I was exposed to some compelling cases of effective campaigns, some less compelling cases with tenuous results and, in some instances, cases with completely absent measures of success. Those entries that did make it to the top of the pile were well-written, insightful and exciting pieces of work that would make any marketer and planner proud.

Being a judge made me adopt a more critical approach as to what it is that we, as marketers, are truly meant to be doing and the type of work we exist to deliver for our clients. The challenge of delivering a strategy that will bear results as against producing disruptive creative that will make brands stand out is one that has always occupied my mind. As a planner who daydreams of being a copywriter, I must admit I have often found myself falling in love with work that I know won’t nudge any metrics.

And so, I reflected on the never-ending debate: when does an effective strategy start to hamper groundbreaking creative and when does disruptive work start to undermine our responsibility to our clients?

A lot of the work today is simply a cataloguing of a product’s benefits and attributes and, dare I say, we’ve been stalling at the very purpose of our service – to inspire people to buy said products and services. And it’s in the inspiring that strategy and creativity make the best of bedfellows.

We know that nothing is more efficient than creative advertising at getting people to buy, Verimark ads aside. The more creative your advertising, the more attention and impact they will have. The more consumers will think about you and the more likely they are to convert to customers. But where we often get stumped in boardrooms is whether that creativity has had an influence on real-life purchase behaviour or any affect at all.

Of course, certain dimensions of creativity work harder than others to influence and so we still need to address the basics of rigorously identifying compelling human truths that lend themselves to a different perspective or challenge conventional wisdom; and producing fantastically executed work that gets the message out clearly and engages, thereby managing, somewhere deep in the recesses of our minds, to pitch a tent where that brand or product will reside.

And that is what I found myself learning these past few weeks.

How to systematically measure the effectiveness of a campaign. How to judge a piece of creative work on more than just the brand love or the heartstrings it tugs, but to reward and acknowledge inspiring ideas that actually worked.

You can’t always accurately predict the effectiveness of a creative campaign before you get the results, but you can come pretty close. And it seems to me that the formula hasn’t changed much since the dawn of this industry.