Why Successful Risk Taking Demands We Treat Effectiveness As An Input. Not A Post-Event Audit Process


We’re off tomorrow to hopefully pick up an effectiveness award. And this prompts some thoughts.

Effectiveness is not something that is merely an output of activity. Nor is it simply some post-event audit process. Those who think that effectiveness is some post-rationalized bonus should be ejected. They bring our industry into disrepute. And those who don’t think their job is to change behaviour should equally be asked to leave.

Effectiveness is a fundamental part of the creative process. Indeed creative excellence begins with objectives. It is after all, relevant creativity that we are after. Relevant to the client’s business needs. And relevant to the needs wants and desires of the intended audiences.

Nonetheless, too many objectives are vague and utterly disconnected from creating economic value. Launching ‘a brand campaign’, ‘entering popular culture’ or tripling the number of Facebook fans are in isolation, as utterly irrelevant objectives as the creative brief that states the role of communications to be to ‘raise awareness.’

One of the wonderful things about the burgeoning technology that surrounds us is that it affords us an ever greater quantity and variety of consumer data. But a note of caution must be sounded. On their own, likes, clicks, views, re-Tweets, pass-ons and so on are no more evidence of effectiveness than an opportunity to see in a traditional media buy. Yet agency credentials and reels are littered with case studies that assume the job was completed when ‘the blogosphere blew up.’ The inability of some to distinguish between intermediate effects and effectiveness is nothing short of tragic.

So a plea to clients and planners alike. Don’t start, don’t pass Go, don’t waste creatives’ time unless you can confidently and clearly provide practical, useful answers to the following:

  1. What precisely, is the commercial opportunity or problem?

  2. What specific change in consumer behaviour is required?

  3. What precisely is the role of communications in achieving this change?

  4. And given all the other factors that can impact consumer behavior and the business, what intermediate measures will indicate that our activity is working?

The Old Spice work has been an enormously noisy, entertaining, and popular piece of creativity. But it wasn’t just some shot in the dark. The understanding of the problem (most body wash is bought by women, so most men use ladies body wash), and the ability to translate that into an objective (get men and women talking about body wash and considering a body wash for blokes) were key to unlocking the man your man could smell like.

Our value lies in applying creativity to solving business issues. The data clearly demonstrates that great creativity is a multiplier of effectiveness. And most of us recognize that great creativity requires risk taking on everybody’s part. But it must be calculated risk.

Without treating effectiveness as an input - without a clear understanding of what exactly it is we’re trying to achieve and how it will create economic value - creative risk taking isn’t risk taking. It’s stupidity.