Have It Your Way: A Marketing Award for a Commercial Mess

This post is by Michael Farmer, Chairman of TrinityP3 USA and author of Madison Avenue Manslaughter: an inside view of fee-cutting clients, profit-hungry owners and declining ad agencies, which won the Axiom Gold Business Book Award for the best marketing / advertising book of 2016.

Marketing Award

Once upon a time, we learned that marketing had something to do with creating, keeping and satisfying customers.  Marketing success created growth and profitability. Chief Marketing Officers had this responsibility and they spent gads of money with their media and creative agencies to make it happen.

When economies were growing, especially in the decades after the Second World War, marketing was a straightforward activity and CMOs were successful.  Recent times have been more troublesome, with e-commerce, digital/social and those pesky Millennials killing brand growth.

Marketing adjusted a bit.

CMOs abandoned their spending proclivities to procurement, and then CMOs changed their job titles to Chief Growth Officer to remind them of their responsibilities. That should have been enough … until Cannes confused the picture by honoring Burger King as Cannes Lions’ Creative Marketer of the Year for 2017.

Burger King is not a business or marketing success. It’s more accurately a failure. Its sales per restaurant put it at the bottom of the heap among its major competitors, at only $1.36 million per store, behind burger competitors Jack in the Box, Wendy’s and McDonald’s.

Its sales per store are only slightly more than half of McDonald’s. [By the way, what’s Chick-fil-A doing, leading the pack at $4.41 million per store, when it’s only open six days per week? McDonald’s, are you paying attention? Is your new agency paying attention?  Do you hope to catch up?]

Marketing award

BK has been in this depressed competitive position for a long time, despite the 15+ ad agencies it has gone through every time it changed CMOs or marketing strategies to overcome its many fast food shortcomings.

What about the award givers? We know who and what Cannes Lion is. It’s the granddaddy of profit-making advertising festivals, raking in cash from growing gate-receipts (16,000 attendees), fees from awards-submissions (40,000 entries), harbor passes for yachts and sponsorships for every ambition and pocketbook.

Creative Marketer of the Year? It should have gone to Ascential PLC, the owner of Cannes Lions, for its aggressive marketing and success! So successful and costly is the Festival that Sir Martin Sorrell (WPP) and Arthur Sadoun (Publicis Groupe) had to push back this year, but I’ll bet that the Festival steams ahead in any case, especially if marketing awards can be won by companies whose marketing is not actually successful.

The award of Creative Marketer of the Year to Burger King is weird, and it shows the degree to which marketing has become disconnected from business success. We all know Burger King, of course, but the numbers suggest that few of us ever eat there, even those who may be amused by their clever TV ads.

Granted, BK’s agencies have created many memorable ads over the years, and “Have it your way” had legs for a long time, but let’s face it — Burger King is nowhere as a competitor.  It is the very definition of a Nothing Burger chain.

Maybe the Cannes jury was so impressed by the BK 2017 marketing submissions that it awarded BK for its aesthetically cute ads and marketing programs. If so, this would be a reflection of our troubled marketing times.

Marketing as a discipline is in the tank, judging from the way brands are stagnant and marketing funds are no longer spent.  Marketers do not know how to generate results from marketing investments, so they’ve given up trying.

They are congratulating themselves instead for increasing shareholder value by not spending marketing funds. They could double this success by winning Cannes awards at the same time.  Should there be a Cannes award for “Most Creative Non-Expenditure of Marketing Funds?” Keep an eye out for it in 2018.  P&G is the leading candidate.

No wonder management consultants are attracted to the advertising industry.  They see future success in the shortcomings of the incumbents.

Cartoon credit: Edward Koren, The New Yorker, The Cartoon Bank. With permission.

This post was first published at Media Village

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About Michael Farmer

Michael Farmer is Chairman of TrinityP3 USA and author of Madison Avenue Manslaughter: an inside view of fee-cutting clients, profit-hungry owners and declining ad agencies, which won the Axiom Gold Business Book Award for the best marketing / advertising book of 2016. He currently serves as Adjunct Associate Professor of Branding and Integrated Communications at The City College of New York (CCNY) and is at work on a new book about the challenges facing Chief Marketing Officers.

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