a friendly poke at CMOs over at Forbes

I t’s creativity award times and the best advertising (although the advertising part was dropped from the award description this year – thank you) is being scrutinized down in Cannes. There are many different points of views on creativity but I think there’s only two sides and one is wrong. If awards is the end you’re aiming for – you’re way off. If you view it as a good gauging tool for the business effects you tried to achieve – no worries.

Here’s a short piece I wrote for the Forbes CMO network the other day, on the subject but not for Cannes reasons.

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with an at-the-time hopefully future client. We had shared some early thoughts on how to help their brand grab a substantial share of the very competitive market they are in. One representative said we had to forgive him for being very skeptical of an industry that “only wants to win awards.” He didn’t express this in a disrespectful way leaving me the chance to respond, and there is a very good response indeed.

We know that advertising works. But we also know a great deal more about what type of advertising works and why. Many advertising greats, often equipped with acute observational skills coupled with a large dose of empathy, always knew this. Obviously it would only pass as ‘being pretty sure’, whereas now we know that creativity really matters in business.

No one buys an ad. I should hope. You invest in better business results and advertising is a means to that end. It drives short- and long-term results. The two are tightly linked, and one might argue there’s not one without the other. We know increasingly more about why this is, thanks to an increasing amount of research on advertising effectiveness. CMOs, agencies – marketeers in general – should keep a keen eye on this, because otherwise we’ll never know if all we bought was an ad.

This is very well described and exemplified in ‘The link between creativity and effectiveness’, published by the IPA in 2010 (you can find the report here). In fact creatively rewarded campaigns are on average 11 times more effective than less creative campaigns.

Pretty good news for anyone responsible for investing in better business results. And pretty interesting to then look at one’s own advertising, and analyze and reflect.

So far so good. But based on my subjective experience, I find it a bit strange that you meet so few CMOs, heads of marketing or advertising, who actually know about these things. Especially in a B2B context, which isn’t as different from consumer as many people would have you think.

Why is this?

Shouldn’t this be as prioritised in clients’ organisations as it is in agencies?

And on that subject I read another Forbes piece on client’s views on awards, and it doesn’t exactly help me calm down. I mean, what can you say about the following reasoning by a CMO?

While the benefits for the agency from winning awards, what’s in it for the client? I was shocked recently when the CMO of a top, nationally recognized company, one that has won many awards over the years, told me that he believed that he is entitled to pay his agency a lower fee because the agency benefits financially from his award-winning account by picking up other accounts.

My marketer friend wondered why the agency could be leveraging the awards to win new business, while the client gets no financial benefit from those awards.

Being entitled to pay the agency less is another matter and I don’t think I’d be able to behave had I been there. But the second part about not getting any financial benefit is equally upsetting. Because like I wrote, it shows how very little some of these people know about the stuff they should know a great deal about.

Obviously it isn’t a clear cut case. Not all award winners have proven very effective and there’s a lot of bullshit “hey look how cool things we dream up” examples that understandably adds to some skeptics’ opinions on creative awards. But damnit we have to arrive at some basic level, general knowledge around creativity and business effects in the suit world soon. It’s upsetting if not even ridiculous.