System1 At Impact 2019: Who Killed Effectiveness?

Marketing effectiveness, and its apparent decline, is an ever-popular topic at advertising and marketing conferences. But the conversation around it can often turn defensive or partisan, with people pushing forward one or another explanation and giving alternatives little attention.

Without a better understanding of what might be causing drops in effectiveness, finding solutions is going to be tougher. What’s the best way to have the conversation?

We decided to make it into a game. A murder mystery game. At the MRS Impact conference this week System1’s Tom Ewing and Keen As Mustard’s Lucy Davison took the format we’d trialled at ESOMAR onto a bigger stage.

Instead of a dry debate, we staged the decline in effectiveness (as evidenced in the IPA DataMINE) as a murder – and where there’s a victim, there are also suspects.

By personalising the various factors and influences involved, we could bring the debate to life – but by using stereotypes we could also make it feel less like we were blaming real individuals.

So who are the suspects in this heinous crime?

There’s AMY AVOCADO, the Millennial, whose fragmented media habits mean it’s harder than ever for campaigns to reach the masses.

CLIVE CLICKTHROUGH, the digital guru, who prefers the instant hits of efficiency and quick ROI to long-term metrics.

Perhaps it’s GARY GLOBAL, the senior brand boss whose desire for uniformity in marketing leads to blandness.

Then there’s INGRID INVESTOR, who’s putting cost pressure on big marketing spenders, cutting costs and driving budget in-house.

And PIERRE PURPOSE, the modern marketer who believes brands need to stand for more than just profit if they’re to survive.

In an audience of researchers, it would be wrong not to include TINA TESTER, whose action standards and gatekeeping mean some ads die before they’re even made.

What about BELINDA BRANDMANAGER, the fast-rising professional who wants to make a big impact now and doesn’t care about long-term gains?

And finally BRANDON BLOCKCHAIN, who never met a shiny object he didn’t like. Why spend money on tired old formats when you can make headlines with an experiential pop-up AR environment?

With the suspects introduced, the audience of witnesses were unleashed, providing crucial evidence from their own experience and eliminating some suspects. New suspects were identified – Nigel Nostalgia, maybe, who clings to the old ways? Alliances were suggested – were Clive and Belinda having a torrid affair? The “Orient Express” hypothesis was raised – they all did it. And finally the most startling revelation of all – maybe the patient wasn’t quite dead yet…. the great thing about framing it as a story is that no hypothesis or challenge is off the table, and even people who disagree with the whole premise can have a say without things getting too heated.

We’ve always liked games and innovative formats as a way to kickstart discussion and this one works very well to bring marketing trends and issues to life. We will be running it again at conferences in the future – with new evidence and suspects to suit the circumstances – and if you’d like to run it yourself, please get in touch. Meanwhile, a big thankyou to everyone who attended and joined in.

And who was the guilty party? This time, our detective went for Gary Global, whose one-size-fits-all philosophy turns brand into bland. But the next time there’s a Murder at Marketing Manor, we could see a very different outcome…

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