There is no higher award in marketing or media than an Effie. ­Despite an almost endless stream of industry galas to attend and gongs to collect, a Gold Effie is the prize anyone of substance aspires to win. There usually aren’t many handed out each year and, as the abbreviated name suggests, it is based on the only measure that ultimately counts: effectiveness.

No surprise, then, that last Thursday’s award dinner in Sydney was a tense affair. Ten Gold Effies were awarded, with the standout prizes to Aldi and its agency BMF for the incredible effectiveness of its advertising. The Grand Effie, the biggest prize of the night, went to Host/Havas for its work changing the perceptions of a career in the armed forces for Defence Force Recruiting. CHE Proximity was named Effective Agency of the Year, with its work receiving plaudits.

Rather than dwell on the winners, however, the real value of the Effies is what they can teach media and marketing people about improving their own marketing effectiveness. There are thousands of campaigns launched in this country each year, a few hundred submit their work for consideration for an Effie, and only a handful earn the fabled award. What makes these winners different from the rest? Why are they more effective?

First, it’s clear that effectiveness depends on a simple strategy. Looking across winning submissions this year is again a ­reminder that the main job of great marketing is to understand the complications of the consumer market but then to emerge from that complexity with a strategy so simple a child could make sense of it.

We’ve all seen bad strategy. An arrogant manager, usually ably assisted by an expensive consulting company, produces a 20-page document meant to describe the new marketing ­approach but that confuses everyone with flow charts and buzzwords and little of any substance.

Great strategy is the opposite. It takes many hard and sweaty hours to work out, but the subsequent strategy that emerges from this complex process should be so tight and easy to comprehend that it can be explained in one or two lines. In its winning submission for the Grand Effie, for example, the complexity of persuading young men and women to join the Australian Defence Force was boiled down to a focus on driving increased consideration and then ramping up the conversion of these applicants into employees. That may sound common sense and very obvious, but it’s all the things that could have been ­included in the strategy but were not that gave this campaign its incredible focus and ultimate effectiveness.

In contrast, the second lesson from the Effies is all about adding, not subtracting. While it’s clear ­effectiveness derives from only one or two clear strategic objectives, it’s equally apparent that when it comes to the optimum number of media channels required to deliver the campaign more really does mean more.

We continue to have anodyne debates within media about whether YouTube is killing television or Facebook is better than radio. An hour spent studying the best Effie-winning campaigns reveals that whole debate to be not only unhelpful but also downright wrong. The more channels a campaign uses, the more effective it appears to become. We keep setting media against each other when, in truth, the right approach says yes to both.

In the case of the Defence Force Recruiting, the team did not decide between TV or online video or Spotify versus radio. It used all of them. In fact, the campaign used 10 distinct platforms, integrated around a clear brand message, to achieve its impact: TV, online video, social, cinema, out of home, digital display, mobile, search, Spotify and radio.

Finally, in a triumphant ­moment for Tony Hale who, as chief executive of the Communications Council, runs the Effies, there is growing evidence of a renewed focus in Australian marketing on long-term thinking.

It has been apparent for the past few years that a lack of marketing training, the growth of shorter-term activation tools such as search and the general impatience of senior executives have all contributed to a shorter time horizon for most marketing planning. Hale ­despaired of this back in 2016 when he famously refused to award a single long-term Effie ­because he simply did not see any brand engaging with customers in anything other than a short-term manner.

He brought out Peter Field, the British marketing guru, to challenge Australian marketers to take the longer view and invest in multi-year, enduring branding campaigns. Results last year and this year speak for themselves. A significant number of Australian advertisers are now thinking beyond the quarterly rhythm of short-term sales activation and building multi-year campaigns focusing on emotional brand building. As Aldi noted in its submission this year: “Marketing at Aldi plays the long game. Building long-term partnerships built on honesty, fairness, openness and mutually high expectations.”

It’s a point that David Halter, a member of all-conquering ad agency CHE Proximity, also was keen to reinforce when I spoke to him the morning after the awards dinner. Halter says the only way to be truly effective is to ­embrace shorter-term immediate wins with longer-term branded focus. He cites his agency’s work for Latitude Financial Services with its combination of mass-targeted, brand-building TV and outdoor media featuring Alec Baldwin and shorter-term, data-driven targeted recruitment further down the funnel using digital media. It’s a clear, incredibly successful path to proven marketing ­impact: less strategic objectives; more media channels; and a focus on short-term wins and the long-term health of the brand. You want an Effie? You need more effectiveness? This is the formula that will deliver it.

This article first appeared in The Australian on September 3 and has been reproduced here with permission.


Mark Ritson is an adjunct professor at Melbourne Business School. He has a PhD in Marketing and works as an international brand consultant. He has been voted Professional Publishers Association Business Columni… Read more