EFFIE 2021 – in Tough Times We Go Back to Our Roots

Piotr Ruszak, Chief Communications Officer at Publicis Groupe Polska, talks to Paweł Tyszkiewicz, Managing Director of SAR, about this year’s EFFIE competition

Piotr Ruszak: The most difficult and unpredictable year that the world has seen in decades is now behind us. The pandemic has affected all areas of our lives, including business. What do you expect from the submissions to this year’s EFFIE, what kind of competition will it be, considering the difficult situation marketers have found themselves in?

Paweł Tyszkiewicz: Yes, I think it was a generational experience on a societal level and if it’s one-off or rare in this 21st century, we will talk about it and remember it like the Spanish flu of the early 20th century. Paradoxically, I think the Effie will also happen, as in the middle of covid 2020 – last year was a surprisingly good year in terms of submissions and we expect the same this year – I spoke to marketers before our meeting about their covid experiences. In difficult times we go back to the sources and well positioned marketing was selling and agencies had their hands full, of course with exceptions, i.e. stopped event marketing, but even here it was possible to notice activity – the strengthening of digital competences – online events. Of course, you have to take into account the specifics of the industry – where there was no downtime in sales: telecommunications, food, household appliances, cleaning products, pharmaceuticals the activity was high.  In beers – we saw that the main brands communicated intensively with consumers, and this was well received and brought results. Where sales and manufacturing stood still, the situation was certainly very different. But even in hard-hit categories like automoto, where there was a lack of oxygen in the second and third quarters, the lockdown showed that for the prepared – online sales were no longer as exotic as some thought. Car sales in this new channel went into full swing, and for other brands, projects tucked away in drawers were launched and virtual showrooms were created to accelerate long-planned processes. The whole year in sales was much better than expected. 

PR: Successive lockdowns and public insecurity have caused many changes in consumer behavior. Will quick reactions of advertisers to these changes and effective actions despite the piling up difficulties be in any way “rewarded” by the jury?

PT: I would not expect any special treatment here – the jurors, when evaluating the campaigns in the “React and Sustain” category last year, which we introduced during Covid, and which was very popular, checked everything very meticulously – they checked whether it was communication activities or random events that influenced the situation of the brand. However, another mechanism may be at work – difficult times reward well experienced marketers, strategists and those dealing with creative aspects – they give them a chance to prove themselves in extreme conditions. 

PR: It can be assumed that 2020 turned out to be an opportunity for companies which were internally organized in such a way (openness and agility in introducing innovations) that quick reactions and changes in running the business and marketing communication simply came easier to them, so among this year’s entries we can expect completely new, less known advertisers.  Do you agree with this hypothesis?  

PT: The first part of the question is easy to answer – by definition, of course, open, innovative teams are quicker to find their way in a new situation, but this applies equally to the big-name companies submitting Effie entries as it does to those whose turnover has been driven up by the lockdown. It was certainly a huge challenge to come up with completely new solutions, new business models, in a situation where teamwork was so difficult. I heard it from the mouths of agency employees and marketers. In times of crisis we often resort to tried and tested models, unless it is impossible, and then it is indeed a great opportunity for change. We certainly hope that the crisis will reveal and embolden new companies and the agencies working for them to share their success.   

PR: What new categories have appeared in the competition this year and why?

PT: The Effie Committee works on a continuous basis and each edition of Effie has been analyzed and proposals introduced in subsequent years. This year, there are quite a few of these changes and I think this is due to the fact that the marketing reality is changing faster and faster. We obviously have new categories i.e.:

Commerce category:

The Commerce category is the result of combining two existing categories: Tech Driven and Performance Marketing /E-commerce. It will reward the most effective campaigns whose primary goal was to achieve the assumed conversion.

Most of the entries to the Tech Driven category in previous editions concerned sales support, so the merger with the Performance Marketing / E-commerce category seemed natural to members of the Effie Organizing Committee. This allowed the definition to be broadened so that campaigns previously underrepresented in the competition, where conversion goals are embedded in a broader spectrum of brand building and enhancing the consumer experience, could be submitted for the newly created category.

The expansion of the category also relates to the environment of the campaign in question. Unlike the previous Performance Marketing / E-commerce category, for which digital was mandatory, the Commerce category will admit both online and offline campaigns or even instore campaigns and conversions measured online and offline. Campaigns including activities in one or more areas such as: Performance, eCommerce, eMerchandise, Tech & Data-Driven, Direct-to-Consumer, Omnichannel may be submitted to the category.

Young Audience:

Generation Z, or those born after 1995, are just starting to live on their own, and as a result, their purchasing power is growing. It’s a segment of society that’s vastly different from older generations, making it harder to figure out and understand. Effie is introducing the Young Audience category to appreciate the best examples of communication towards youth, while creating benchmarks for the market, educating and showing how to do things from the level of communication and marketing that will resonate in this group.

This category will reward communication activities aimed at youth and young adults. The activities may include a very broad catalog of online and offline tools, as well as be based on a unique platform for reaching the audience, e.g. music, sport, gaming, influencer marketing.  

Changes to last year’s new category:

Change in definition and name of category opened last year React&Sustain to React&Defend. The discourse on valorizing continuous growth in business is under criticism. Defensive strategies and campaigns are technically as the most difficult, most demanding in terms of knowledge and skills. At the same time, judging such campaigns requires a new approach by jurors in some sense freed from the pressure to grow. Last year was the right time for positive examples of this type of action to be clearly noticed and appreciated, creating the appropriate category. This year, we have merely clarified that we are referring to proactive communications efforts that were designed to defend a business position and/or respond to unexpected, external business or non-business circumstances. It will be crucial for the jury to properly identify, describe and estimate/quantify the potential impact of the external factor in relation to which the reaction or defense takes place.

Changing the Positive Change: CSR, Community Education and Pro Bono categories to 2 new categories:

Why did we decide to separate this category? You can see a huge difference in the market between the activity of charitable entities and the activity of commercial entities. Therefore, we separated these activities by creating 2 new categories: Non-profit & Public Service and on Positive Influence.

Thinking and reporting in terms of sustainable development (Environmental, Social & Governance) is becoming more and more common, both among business representatives and market regulators, especially within the EU). ESG is penetrating the world of marketing: consumers increasingly expect brands and companies to have a positive impact on the surrounding reality beyond business. This kind of theme actively appears in advertising campaigns. Therefore, in the Positive Influence category, awards will be given to all manifestations of the activity of commercial profile entities, within the framework or at the occasion of which actions or activities serving the “greater good” from the ESG order are promoted.

On the other hand, the Non-profit & Public Service category is intended for campaigns run by non-governmental organizations, public administration, NGOs or informal groups. It includes all communication activities created in the social/public interest, supporting important values or ideas – education, awareness, changing social attitudes.

PR: It seems that the most prestigious and probably the most demanding EFFIE categories are Long Term and Marketing & Business Solutions. Do you notice any interesting tendencies in this group of submissions, or is competition increasing in it?

PT: Indeed, Long Term Marketing Excellence is always a very heavily populated category – the desire to prove that the actions implemented for the brand have long-lasting effects has been the fuel in this category for many years. A deeper analysis of trends still needs to be developed, but we can certainly see a progressive professionalisation of the entries, a levelling up, which is a significant challenge for the judges.  The Marketing & Business Solutions category is a challenge for us and the submitters – this may be due to the fact that it is still a young category with a difficult and complicated form. Moreover, the fact that in this category, to a greater extent than in other categories, the initiator is the marketer, and not the agency makes us need more time for promotion. 

PR: Finally, let’s recall the most important deadlines for the competition.

PT: Entries for the Effie competition will be accepted on four dates:

  • 1st deadline: 12.05.2021 – 31.05.2021 (to 5:00 pm inclusive)
  • 2nd deadline: 31.05.2021 (from 5:01 pm) – 21.06.2021 (to 5:00 pm inclusive)
  • 3rd deadline: 21.06.2021(from 5:01 pm) – 12.07.2021 (to 5:00 pm inclusive)
  • 4th deadline: 12.07.2021 (from 5:01 pm) – 23.07.2021 (to 5:00 pm inclusive)

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PR: Thank you for the interview.