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‘It’s a Tide Ad’ showed marketers and creatives at their best

Tise Ad Super Bowl Grand Effie


‘It’s a Tide Ad’ showed marketers and creatives at their best


The quest to make marketing a science is ongoing. It’s a quest that might ultimately prove to be successful or (my vote) a noble but flawed venture.

Either way, its nobility is assured because the most important concept in the modern marketing lexicon – ‘evidence-based’ – has emerged as a crucial side-product of the scientific quest.

For too long marketers have based their strategies on concepts and theories that have little if any empirical substance. Millennial marketing, brand love, storytelling and a host of other impressively nonsensical concepts serve to obfuscate and obscure the real road to effectiveness.

Fortunately, marketers are finally turning to more empirical data on marketing and advertising effectiveness to guide their approaches. And it is with that evidence-based turn in mind that the power of effectiveness awards and case studies become truly apparent.

In the UK, our own Marketing Week Masters and The IPA Effectiveness Awards are two of several essential evidence-based touchstones that show marketers what does and does not deliver effective campaigns. They have never been more important than now.

READ MORE: Mark Ritson – Don’t just look at the long term, look at the long, long term

Over in the US this week, the granddaddy of  effectiveness awards was handing out prizes for the best American campaigns of the year. For fifty years  brands have been submitting their finest work for the chance of winning an Effie

Hundreds apply, but only a handful are awarded each year – not to the biggest companies or the most creative executions but to the campaigns that have proven to be the most effective. The ones that worked.

Strategy plus creativity

Last night in Manhattan it was the team from Procter & Gamble who manage Tide that claimed the honour of the ultimate prize – the American Grand Effie – for their ‘It’s a Tide Ad’ Superbowl campaign. It’s a wonderful example of clear insight, strategic thinking and tremendous execution from Saatchi & Saatchi New York, their agency partner.

Tide’s win comes at a crucial time for marketers. For the past decade we have become an industry obsessed with media at the expense of creativity.

Scan the pages of most marketing content and there are dozens of discussions about programmatic, brand safety and other media related issues. But this focus has come at the expense of creativity and the realisation that what we send down the advertising tubes is at least as important as the design of the tubes themselves.

The story of Tide’s campaign is an eternal one of client insight and strategic focus matched with a properly creative agency response. The P&G team running Tide had identified that the detergents category had become obsessed with the removal of dirt and stains.

That might seem an obvious approach if you are selling soap powder but Tide’s team realised that, while removing dirt might be an important product feature, it was associated with all the brands in the category and, crucially, lower down the benefit ladder than the customer benefit of perfectly clean clothes.

That insight was then briefed to Saatchi & Saatchi, which brainstormed around the idea. At this point there is a black box that defies exposition or analysis.

I’d love to set out a model or equation that explains how the creative team at the agency went from the brief of “talk about clean” to the idea that every ad on TV features people in perfectly clean clothes and is therefore a Tide ad. But the honest reality is that you can’t explain this creative process or the steps through which this amazing leap of imagination was achieved.

Playing to a brand’s strengths

All you can really say is that Saatchi & Saatchi has amazing creative people, and that P&G knows how to brief, and to step back and let its agency work. And perhaps one more thing. When Saatchi & Saatchi came back to P&G with multiple initial ideas, the client immediately saw the potential of ‘It’s a Tide Ad’ and told the agency to drop every other idea and focus all their energy on this one.

I’ve seen this interaction before at luxury brands in the daily dance between a CEO and a creative director. The CEO picks their creative director and then empowers them and steps back. But they also step in and help focus the creative choices when the moment requires it. Kudos to P&G for picking Saatchi & Saatchi, for allowing it to work and then knowing when to direct it.

Nothing trumps a big brand run by smart marketers with a great agency at their side.

Tide’s victory also demonstrates the potential for existing legacy brands in traditional categories to fight back against hot new entrants. We’ve heard a lot in the past year about the rise of direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands and their ability to take out the industry incumbents. It doesn’t get much more incumbent than P&G, soap powder, Tide and a TV-based campaign.

Furthermore, Tide’s marketing objectives for its campaign were not to grow share or increase revenues. Like the vast majority of marketing investment this was a campaign designed to defend a huge price premium and maintain a massive market share in one of the most lucrative categories in America.

READ MORE: Mark Ritson – Accept it, people hate ads – yes, all of them

The fact that the campaign did just that is evidence that despite the desire of most marketers to favour the new over the old and the disruptive over the dominant, nothing trumps a big brand run by smart marketers with a great agency at their side. It must have been tempting for Tide to attempt to adopt the agile and disruptive aggression of the DTC entrants that P&G are now facing across their business.

Certainly, this new competitive context has forced the Cincinnati giant to push harder than ever before. But the essence of smart corporate strategy is to play to your strengths not to those of your competitor.

Tide is the biggest brand in one of the biggest, most ancient categories on the planet. ‘It’s A Tide Ad’ deserves its Effie because not only has it reinforced and strengthened Tide’s market position, it is a campaign that uses the size and scale and power of the brand to its advantage.

And it’s a campaign that will kick off a special series of Effie case studies that I will present over the summer here at Marketing Week. I was invited by the Effie organisation in America to analyse 50 years of case studies and to pick my top 10 of all time to exemplify marketing effectiveness.

Each Monday we will launch a new 10-minute case study here at Marketing Week, in which I look at one of the great cases and what they teach marketers. You’ll be able to watch them here. What better way to learn about marketing than from the evidence from those that have gone before and been successful? We will look at Apple, Gillette, Lidl and others as we examine what makes marketing more effective.

Watch: Ritson on the effectiveness of Tide’s 2018 Super Bowl ad

But we kick off the series with the Grand Effie winner for 2019, Tide, hot off the press. You can access the case study here and learn more about how a wonderful insight drove a brilliant strategy and a breathtaking creative execution. It’s a brilliant lesson in the power of creativity in driving effectiveness and a fantastic way to kick off this important new series.


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