Review of Advertising Works 19 by Matthew Heath, Chief Strategy Officer, M&C Saatchi Group published in the International Journal of Advertising, 30(3), pp. 537-538
Walk into any agency planning department and, next to the (one hopes) shining collection of awards and gongs, you are likely to see a row of copies of Advertising Works. To a cricket fan like me this is the Wisden of the advertising world - a huge collection of success stories and statistics from last season’s star performers. It is both a source of reference and a way to browse for ideas, a confirmation that great communications do deliver hard results and an inspiration which reminds us that getting it right takes a powerful fusion of great strategic thinking and special creative magic. Now in their 19th volume, with the awards themselves in their 30th year, these mighty tomes represent the collective wisdom of UK advertisers and their agencies down the decades.
Reviewing what is essentially a review is never easy. As well as 31 main entries (from advertisers as diverse as KFC and Teacher Recruitment), there are summaries of the 13 Bronze winners and six introductory chapters from the alumni of some of our most famous agencies, advertisers and academic institutions. There are close to 800 tightly packed pages, full of well-told stories and results achieved. So perhaps it is best simply to reflect on some overall impressions from a nightly browse.
There is a lot about newness in this volume: Buzz from T-Mobile, Barclaycard on Youtube, landmark sponsorship for 02, Wispa’s return via facebook, striking content for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. This is naturally refreshing and it starts to move the centre of gravity of the awards away from the TV-centric world of advertising’s past. In a sense, though, for all its bold discussion of the new wave of communications, much of Advertising Works serves as a comforting reminder of the enduring power of brands. Hovis taking the Grand Prix for a celebration of its past; Sainsbury’s going back to its value roots in feeding us for a fiver; Stroke Awareness offering public information classic; Audi’s evolution of its 40-year-old brand idea; Bisto’s Aah becoming Aah Night. For all the shock of the new channels and the need to overcome fragmentation, the Grand Prix winner has at its heart a terrific TV commercial: Ridley Scott from 1973 is matched by Ringan Ledwidge 2008 in taking Hovis to the nation’s heart. And purse.
What is perhaps different and most exciting is that the best entries are no longer concerned with advertising ideas, but ideas that can be advertised. This is perhaps the biggest revolution in this volume of Advertising Works. Waitrose Essentials is a brilliantly simple piece of repositioning. Sainsbury’s feeding us for a fiver likewise. Cadbury’s laddered a brand idea right up to its essence in its Joy campaigns. TDA teacher recruitment and Wispa show us that it is just as much about the channels as the idea. Has the medium ever been more of the message than in our multi-channel age?
The nature of anticipated revolution is that it takes longer, but goes deeper, than anyone can imagine in the early phases. In the early 1980s it was thought that, within a couple of years, perhaps 10% of the population would use mobile phones every day. In reality this revolution has been truly felt only in the last 15 years, accelerating to an average ownership of more than one mobile each. So it will be with brand communication, for all the revolutionary talk that is in the air and in the pages of this book. Everything new will have its day, but that day will take longer to dawn that we may think, and it will bring new horizons than none of us can imagine. The potential content of Advertising Works 2030 boggles the mind.