Picture: 123RF/rawpixel
Picture: 123RF/rawpixel

More than ever before, if advertising is going to work it needs to embrace risk with more vigour. And it has to find a way of integrating meaningfully with popular culture.

This is a new assessment from global ad research and resource company Warc, which has compiled key learnings from the recent winners of the Cannes Lions awards for effectiveness.

The top line for marketers is that a play-it-safe approach no longer cuts it with an audience that is increasingly switching off from conventional advertising.

"You cannot just be passive. You have to take an important stand on something and be willing to back it, even in the face of criticism," says John Seifert, CEO of Ogilvy Worldwide and chair of the effectiveness jury.

"We are in an age of continuous innovation, so brands need to challenge themselves and raise the bar. In future we will see more brands confronting the pain points that consumers have and then turning that on its head so they become something that is admired."

A case in point, says Seifert, is a campaign about the home video console Xbox that noted pricing frustration among its loyal consumers. It confronted that head on, and created a more palatable business model.

Warc says that for brands to navigate this new paradigm, they need to pay attention to the effectiveness trifecta: what big impact the brand will have on society; what business impact it will have on their bottom line and on consumers’ pockets; and whether it will move the needle culturally.

It’s the third point that is becoming increasingly critical. The analysis says: "Smart brands are tapping into the current culture of activism and encouraging people to join in. After a long period in which brands were relying on storytelling and emotion as creative strategies, stories alone are now insufficient."

Seifert says: "You now have to see the actions and experiences that brands create to generate the trifecta."

Warc’s survey says brands have to consider whether they have a true "organising principle" for customer experience; media owners have to gear their platforms towards more participation and user-generated content; and agencies need to stop pursuing a drive for more online conversation relentlessly and understand that a "real-world" presence (experiences) also has an important role to play in a brand’s effectiveness story.

Seifert says brands and agencies need to think beyond the short and medium term. Marketers need to develop a sense that they are creating a relationship with audiences that keeps them engaged continually.

"They need to find something true that can be executed in multiple different ways that make a statement about who they are and what they believe in. Increasingly that is going to be the test of everything we do."

The study says clients need to step up and be part of the process. Essentially, the more client involvement that can be obtained in crafting campaigns, the better.

Says Warc: "We note some reluctance [and] that clients fear they are giving away proprietary best practice and information.

"Agencies will give more value by being more deeply involved."