Lessons in effectiveness from DDB Aotearoa

DDB Aotearoa examines successful campaigns from across the globe to identify shared elements and devising a guide for achieving effectiveness that avoids more of the same.

For years, brands have been following the same effectiveness rule book and ended up with a sea of sameness. Codified advertising. Box-ticking campaigns. Bleeding into each other and stymieing growth due to a lack of differentiation and a wealth of misattribution. By sticking to tried-and-true formulas and playing it safe with messaging, the pressure to conform can be overwhelming.

In today’s crowded and competitive marketplace, it takes more than simply following the status quo to capture the attention of consumers. The brands that have come out on top in effectiveness awards do so because they recognised that playing it safe came at the cost of standing out. They found effectiveness by breaking the rules – by being brave. 

Alongside the DDB Planning Team, we trawled through hundreds of 2022 Effie winners from around the world and pulled together the top lessons for effectiveness to help brands push boundaries and conventions and break out of the boredom in 2023.

  • Embrace brand acts alongside ads

Gone are the days of choosing between a short-term brand activation or long-term ad campaign. To be effective, you need both. Successful brands found the right balance of using less traditional forms of communication to enhance long-term platforms and grow their customer base.

  • McDonald’s Famous Orders grew penetration amongst their most resistant audiences – Asian, African and Hispanic populations and the notoriously discerning 18-24 year old segment. Twenty-six percent of people buying the Travis Scott meal hadn’t visited McDonald’s in the last year.
  • Dove demonstrated that brand acts can bring new energy to existing brand platforms. Their ‘Reverse Selfie’ was a demonstration of what ‘Real Beauty’ means to a Gen Z audience who live on social media. 
  • A digital-first approach to the tried-and-true product demonstration, Samsung’s iTest broke down barriers to consideration that had seemed insurmountable previously.  
  • Hold the brand line

Brands that have not just weathered big cultural, economic, and pandemic shifts but thrived in them, show the power of holding the line on the brand objectives, the brand idea and the brand handwriting over tough times. Many effectiveness cases over the last year held their nerve and stayed the course, even as their feet were held to the fire. 

  • ALDI credits its unchanging objectives, strategy, creative, coding, ambition, and investment for its success in dethroning John Lewis for becoming Britain’s favourite Christmas campaign two years in a row and enticing customers back to their stores. 
  • Tesco’s Food Love Stories campaign stayed the course through the pandemic and came out the other side in greater health. The idea of celebrating the food we love to make for the people we love was never more potent than in those lockdown months and Tesco wasn’t afraid to lean into it. Jon’s ‘Isolation’ Aromatic Lamb was the perfect balm in those long months of isolation. And Anna’s ‘Reunion Duck’ marked the post-lockdown freedom. Tesco responded to culture without changing its own course. 
  • Bravery is not flinching or wobbling at the first sign of failure. McDonald’s UK kept its brand pillars, tone and approach to insight consistent over decades but kept it fresh with each new challenge and campaign. However, they didn’t always get it right and when they overstepped, they made sure to learn from it and then just keep on pushing. 
  • Other brands have succeeded through holding the line on their brand handwriting. Going beyond brand codes, they’ve identified how they tell their stories and stuck to those creative ingredients in good times and bad. Lotto and Uber Eats Australia are great examples of brands who know their brand handwriting and aren’t afraid to stick to it, regardless of the fads and fashions of the day. Turning up as their inimitable selves each time and winning the day. 
  • Make purpose more pointed 

A polarising topic amongst marketers, purpose it’s clear that it can be an effective way to elevate above the rest of the category, but only if done right. The brands that have been winning creatively and effectively kept their brand purpose tied closely to the category and product functionality.

  • Brands found more meaning and relevance by returning to their founder’s mission. Waitrose recommitted to their original purpose, “to lift the food industry to a higher plane”, using it to address the lack of quality food and ethical farming. And Cadbury’s return to generosity and the “Glass and a Half” became more meaningful than ever during Covid times.
  • Adding a lens of practicality can close the believability gap that tends to exist between purpose and product. NRMA Insurance by making Australian homes safer from natural disasters and Barclays by helping improve Brits’ dysfunctional relationship with money. 
  • Take it to the extremes

Brands struggling to stand out and shift metrics found new energy by breaking established category codes. Beyond just avoiding the expected, brands were rewarded by taking their campaign platforms to the extreme edges of creativity, either transporting customers to fantastical worlds or pushing against competitors with radical transparency. 

  • KFC UK credits its dramatic turn-around in brand and business metrics to its five-year strategic platform, ‘The Right Way’, a platform that encouraged them to be honest and transparent, even when they ran out of chicken.
  • Mini Cheddars had long been a product that was loved but not bought until they created their own unique world, giving their products salience in the form of fantastical backstories.
  • ALDI’s Kevin the Carrot demonstrates the wealth of opportunity when you build your own brand world, allowing for fresh but distinctive stories year after year.

Being brave doesn’t mean abandoning your brand and the equity you’ve built over the last however many decades. It means knowing what is uniquely yours vs what is the category’s, leaning into the first even if it means abandoning the second. It means looking for the open space, for the opportunities for originality and unexpectedness that will set you apart in an industry that is becoming increasingly paint-by-numbers. As demonstrated by the brands above, being unexpected works. 

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About Laura Davies and Charlotte Marks

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