Looking at this year’s Effie UK winners, I was reminded of a powerful life lesson from the inimitable Des’ree: “You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser. You gotta be hard, you gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger.”
A 1994 classic that I’m sure is now annoyingly stuck in your head (you’re welcome) - but also some wise advice on how to be effective when the world turns upside down.
The vanilla middle looks increasingly a rather ineffective place to be. We’ve seen many cases fall between the bold and wise actions of smaller budgets where risk is a necessity not just a nice-to-have, and the established long-haulers doubling down with resilience and belief in their strategy and approach. Both ends of that spectrum recognise that whatever your scale or budget, committing 100% is the only option.
The brands that know who they are, and who their customers could be, are the ones that demarcated the greatest effectiveness. Two larger businesses in the mix, Aldi and McDonalds, the winners in Sustained Success, have proven the strengths of enduring brand platforms. Both have cultivated communities of brand fans willing to stake their personal reputations on who has the best fries/chainsaw (delete as appropriate) on offer. At the other end of the scale, Eve Sleep and the Rugby League World Cup took a slightly different, but no less effective, approach. They were fearless in doing things out of the ordinary to generate attention and strongly leaning into the challenges we all faced in the past year-and-a-bit, even, in the Rugby League World Cup’s case, when efforts looked futile.
The Grand Effie winner, Aldi, showed just how far a shrewd long-term marketing strategy can take a brand. Aldi was once dismissed as a no-frills ‘pile-it-high-and-sell-it-cheap’ store. Yet, by actively embracing this underdog status and using it to inform marketing that catapulted it from bit player to the fifth biggest supermarket in the UK, Aldi has consistently made its value-focus the key selling point in creative marketing. The brand has been unswerving in its strategy since 2010 and, despite being outgunned by the big four supermarkets, has managed to successfully move from the grocery periphery into the mainstream. It has won over a sceptical public, shaken up its competitive set and won the supermarket Christmas ad-battle, thanks to not just launching but committing to ‘Kevin The Carrot’
Turning the pandemic challenges presented by 2020 into opportunity, when the sports world had effectively shut down, the Rugby League World Cup (RLWC), a Gold Effie winner, attempted to sell tickets to a tournament no one was sure would even take place. It created its first ever public ballot to encourage people stuck at home to buy their tickets in advance in case they missed out on a much-longed-for collective experience. The ballot was also designed to attract new audiences to the RLWC, which wasn’t well known outside of its fan base. With a small budget, the RLWC could little afford any wasted media spend to boost demand for tickets. Its strategy was so successful that it delivered sales of 140% of the initial target, with over half of those buying tickets new to the tournament.
Gold winner Eve Sleep is another brand that doesn’t let a modest marketing budget dampen its ambitions. Last year, it launched a hugely innovative sponsorship partnership with Channel 4 which saw the broadcaster removing brain-stimulating blue light from its TV ads to help viewers get a good night's sleep. This bold, pioneering move boosted brand growth and gave Eve Sleep the advantage in a hugely competitive market.
When Bronze award-winner McDonald’s announced recently that its sales soared to above pre-Covid levels
, its president and CEO Chris Kempczinski put its success in part down to its focus on using its “marketing muscle to keep the golden arches shining brightly” through lockdowns and restrictions. McDonald’s had to close its restaurants when the pandemic hit but continued to provide reassurance to the public through clear, confident communications that focused on the safety of customers and employees. Its jubilant ‘Return of the Mac’ campaign
to celebrate the reopening of its stores enabled it to get the edge on the competition and attract customers back in stores without overwhelming its ability to deliver.
All of these inspiring winners share a unifying trait: they were not afraid to invest during times of uncertainty and went on to reap the rewards. My overriding take out from this year’s selection is that brands have succeeded through creative nonconformity. Whether you're seizing the day on a small budget, like Eve Sleep and the RLWC, or sticking to a long-term strategy in the midst of widespread disruption, as Aldi and McDonald’s did - being bold, wise, tough or strong (yes, thank you Des'ree) pays off. Regardless of the path each took, they realised opportunity in breaking the mould.