Picture: 123RF/yobro10
Picture: 123RF/yobro10

In the winter of 2015, an Indian giant walked into the offices of the Dallas Mavericks, a professional basketball team based in the US. He measured 7’ 2”, weighed just on 136kg and wore a size 22 shoe. At 19 years old, his hands were the largest the staff had ever seen and when he spoke, his voice boomed like a loudspeaker, instantly drawing attention from anyone within ear-shot. His name was Satnam Singh and he truly was an Indian giant. He was at the Mavericks for an interview, one it was hoped could lead to a professional career in basketball.

Singh had been discovered five years earlier in a village called Ballo Ke, a farming settlement in Punjab in India. At the age of 14, he was already 6’ 11” and weighed 104 kg. His shoes were in pieces, bursting at the seams and clearly unable to keep up with the extended growth spurt of the young Singh.

Through a contracted relationship between the Basketball Federation of India and the Florida-based IMG Sports Academy, Singh ended up in the US. Unable to speak English at the age of 15, he embarked on a journey which ended with him being drafted into the NBA as the 52nd overall pick four years later. When he was reduced to tears on the night, one could certainly fall in love with the rags to riches story, one that included overcoming the most adverse of circumstances to hopefully make it to the top.

The only problem was that not many people had actually seen him play.

After the draft, Singh began in the Development League of the NBA but didn’t see much game time. In his first season he only played nine games, managing to average 1.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 7.9 minutes per game. It was soon clear to the media that Singh was becoming more and more of a project that the Mavericks hoped would develop into a star player because of his size and age. It was not to be and after two short seasons in the D-League, the young giant decided to return to India, signing a contract to join the UBA Pro Basketball League and represent India at the 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments.

There is a great lesson in this story, one that is very simple. In Singh’s case (and indeed the Dallas Mavericks), the metrics didn’t matter. Instead of measuring line speed, athletic ability, fitness or skillset range, the Dallas Mavericks became preoccupied with size. There is also inherent bias written all over his selection. The scouts and agents saw Singh as more of a story to sell than an investment in their team. Why else would Singh’s popularity be more closely linked to his media profile than his playing ability? Netflix even did a one-hour documentary on him called “One in a Billion” and though his story has inspired other Indian players to make it to the NBA, it is a sad case of mismanaging the facts. In a multimillion dollar league like the NBA, the costs are monumental.

The big take-out

Advertising awards entries need to reflect business results in a meaningful and clear way or they risk coming under attack from the effectiveness police.

Sadly, after having judged many awards over the past eight years, I can tell you the Indian Giant’s story is all too familiar. I have often sat in jury sessions poring through work that appears to be exceptional only to find out that the metrics didn’t matter. There is no point measuring clicks if your job was to generate awareness, or measuring impressions when the goal was to deliver leads. In many cases, it feels as though the entries are attempting to justify the ideas and executions more than anything else. As practitioners, we often find ourselves forgetting that we live in a world of commerce. A world where businesses are looking for returns that don’t come in the form of a trophy.

The best example of this is the Gatorade Replay case, which won a number of awards globally including a Cannes Lion in 2010. Having seen the number of male consumers older than 30 declining, Gatorade was looking for a way to encourage consumption among these lapsed users who no longer take part in sport. The idea was to “Replay” a famous high school football match between Easton and Pittsburg that ended in a draw in 1993. Gatorade spent three months finding the original players and coaches and providing support and training facilities to all participants. The game took place on exactly the same field, in front of 15,000 spectators. A truly creative and insightful campaign.

But what was most surprising to me were the results. According to Em Mathews, a planner at Iris Worldwide who worked on the award-winning campaign: “(The) majority of the participants made dramatic health improvements. The game sold out in 90 minutes. (There were) 160 million media impressions, 13,961 (additional) Facebook fans, 6,200 tweets and 1.8m video views”, all of which have nothing to do with growing penetration among 30+ males.

Sigh.

I do think it was a great campaign but it’s a poor example of business effectiveness. Unfortunately for us, the proportion of clients who now attend advertising awards festivals is growing. It has gone from about 10% in the early 2000s to nearly 30% today. That is a key statistic. It means simply that the spotlight is on all of us and, like it or not, the award entry needs to reflect business results in a meaningful and accurate way. We call this “line of sight” and it means that there has to be a clear thread from your challenge to the insight, the idea, the execution and the results.

As agencies, we are under attack by the effectiveness police. Let’s not give them any opportunities to tell us that our creative or media don’t matter. Our industry is one of the most important places for ideas that solve business problems. So let’s ask the next Satnam Singh scout: “Are you sure you’re looking at the right things?”

Wayne Bishop is the MD of PHD Johannesburg