On Merit, Attention and Audience Action

Dumb_Ways_to_Die

Here’s a question: are plaudits for advertising and marketing campaigns awarded under a similar scale of merit as we apply to film and literature? Should they be?

Miranda Ward posted an interesting piece on mUmBRELLA recently which looked at the effectiveness of Metro Trains’ much awarded ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ campaign. While no one can debate the virality of the campaign and its success, in terms of gaining attention, Ward’s piece puts a spotlight on the actual effectiveness of the campaign, as matched against its core objectives, and putting those results into hard numbers is slightly more elusive. That’s not to say it wasn’t successful, but there’s no clear argument to suggest it was either, despite it being the “most awarded campaign in the history of Cannes (with 28 Lions, including five Grands Prix)” (source).

This reminded me of the Oreo’s ‘Dunk in the Dark’ tweet from the 2013 Super Bowl, which was a topic of discussion recently in the lead-up to its 2015 equivalent. It’s a similar situation – ‘Dunk in the Dark’ was also very creative and garnered a heap of attention and awards, but in terms of actual effectiveness, in getting more people to buy more biscuits, the correlation isn’t clear. That gap, between awarding great work, as opposed to awarding effectiveness, reminded me a little of the way we praise movies and film – the films that earn the most money tend to also be among those most hated by critics (i.e. Transformers 3). Film awards, meanwhile, go to more creative and innovative works that, for the most part, don’t produce the same financial results. But then again, that’s not really the point of making a film – an advertisement does have a definitive objective.

What this debate highlights is that there may not be a perfect way to judge such pursuits. It’s art vs. science – we all want to support creativity and innovation, but in doing so, we may, at times, lose some balance with overall effectiveness. Really, the awards for advertising and marketing should go to the campaign that gained the most attention whilst also producing the best results, in alignment with the campaign objectives – the more concrete those results, the better. But ad reach has always been somewhat subjective – tying exact results to metrics like ‘reach’ isn’t an exact science. So what do we do? I want to see better ads, I can see from the numbers that ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ has successfully gained attention – that type of creative work should be encouraged. But if I can’t link it back to definitive figures…

This is a debate that’ll always exist – awareness is something that’s tough to quantify, but the onus is on brands to produce work that’s both engaging and in-line with overall mission. In that sense, Dumb Ways to Die has succeeded, but would it have been more effective if they went for a TAC-style, hard-hitting campaign? It likely wouldn’t have got the reach, and it wouldn’t have got the awards, but it might have been better at delivering the actual message and raising awareness. Maybe. But the question, really, is around how we award advertising and marketing effectiveness, how we align the metrics we can account for back to the overall goals. This is getting easier, or at least, we’re getting access to more comprehensive data based on conversion tracking and data analytics, but it’s still some way off.

And the real question that stems from this is ‘are we establishing the right expectations for marketers and advertisers by awarding works not anchored to objective results?’ The important thing is for marketers to analyse their own campaigns and build an understanding of what they’re trying to achieve. Getting attention is one thing, but keeping it is another – you might be able to get more click-throughs by posting a video of your cat, but is that then leading to more people buying your handmade soaps? If it is, that’s what you should be doing, but amidst the emphasis on Followers and Likes and Pins and re-grams, it’s important to understand how that behaviour relates to the actual results you’re seeking to achieve. This is made more difficult when Facebook strangles organic reach and puts increased emphasis on brands getting more likes. More likes means more reach, and more people looking at your content – and those likes also increase the chance of your content appearing in more news feeds next time you post. The trick is in balancing the imperative need for attention with the fundamental requirement for audience action. There’s no perfect way to measure this, but it’s worth considering the balance when thinking on how you can ‘go viral’.

2 comments

  1. Ian Forth

    Excellent and well argued post, Andrew, especially granted your background is social media, where the tendency is to overtrumpet its virtues.

    I too remain amazed at the praise heaped on the effectiveness of Dumb Ways to Die. Its creativity is not in doubt. But for all the attention and hype lavished on it, has it really changed adolescent behaviour around railway stations (which always seemed a suspiciously specific objective)? Maybe it has, but it seems more like a video vampire to me, where form has mugged content.

    And that’s disappointing, when much less highly regarded campaigns which have won nothing at Cannes have actually saved lives. I’m thinking of Slip Slop Slap, Clunk Click Every Trip and TAC’s Bloody Idiot campaigns.

    • adhutchinson

      Thanks for reading Ian, and yep, totally agree – in no way am I criticising the ad itself, it’s clearly resonated with the audience and the people who ultimately judge it are the people paying the bill (though it would be public money, essentially, in this case, I guess). No, my aim was more to suggest that the praise heaped on campaigns that don’t deliver clear results, tied back to their objectives, may actually send the wrong message to the wider industry. In social, it’s like having something go viral – getting 20,000 re-tweets doesn’t necessarily sell more stuff, yet it’s lauded as a success. But is it really? Shouldn’t we be utilising these new masses of data to think deeper on the actual metrics?

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