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Have the Veterinary Marketing Awards gone to the dogs or cats? The Olly Caporn column

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If you thought Pharma adland was a bit of a niche area, some of you will have experienced the niche within the niche that is Veterinary pharma.

Now that is niche.

That is a Rolls Royce Cor-niche

That’s what Sean Connery calls the airport when you visit Cannes.

And to a certain extent the leaps that Pharma in general has made towards improving creative standards has been largely ignored by our animal health brothers and sisters, with a few notable exceptions.

But whatever you think of the kind of work that regularly wins the VMAs (Veterinary Marketing Awards not the Miley Cyrus ones) and whether or not you think it’s a stitch up between the dominant Pharma company and the awards committee the fact remains that it’s probably the best veterinary work out there.

It suffers from the same compromises and international confusions that everything else does.

But put any creative director or client of your choice in a room with a free lunch and see if you don’t get the same results.

I’ve never actually heard anyone use the words ‘stitch up’ out loud but at the awards luncheon it was definitely in the air.  A few “so and so won’t be entering next year…there’s no point” type comments accompanied by a sort of petulant teenage dropping of the shoulders.

A certain, well…er..cattiness…which I found rather offensive but also rather worrying for the only UK awards that recognize an albeit smaller market but no less important or potentially creative.

That aside, I am intrigued by the obvious creative culture that exists within Boehringer Ingelheim’s Animal Health division and why they consistently produce the best work and certainly the work that dominates the modest yet proud VMAs.

It’s not as if BI have a reputation for superior creativity particularly.

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So what makes BI so dominant?

Well, firstly they enter about six times more than anyone else so they up their chances significantly.

But why?

I mean, some of the BI work was great but some of it was awful too and yet there it was on the table asking to be judged.

The answer has to do with competitiveness and all the usual kudos and glory associated with parading your success in front of your peers.

With one crucial difference.

At BI, the awards are their chance to shine against each other, division against division, brand against brand. Pig takes on Cow, CKD takes on ticks and fleas and creativity is understood and championed, for the most part.

It’s dog eat dog.

I think 9 out of the final 11 pieces of work brought back for the best in show award were BI campaigns or items, all for different sectors of the veterinary world.

Which makes it in danger of becoming some sort of BI internal awards, such is the competitive culture that has developed.

Okay, so they dominate the awards but what is fascinating and encouraging is that this creative culture has built their brands too.

The truth is that BI also score extremely highly on awareness and effectiveness and consistently top those types of polls, which means that even though they are paying the same as their competitors for their creative agencies they are getting considerably more bang for their buck.

And to prove it, The President’s award this year was also voted the winner in the category chosen by the target market themselves, the vets.

So it wasn’t just creatives who liked the work.

The agencies are asked (politely) to enter every item produced such is the hunger for each brand manager to play the game and win, no matter what chance it actually has.

The very thing that could work for an entire industry has almost exclusively been adopted by one company, and to great effect.

To digress for a moment, when I worked at Havas we had two car accounts, Peugeot and Citroen which both had the same holding company owners.

We had to have two buildings as the marketing teams didn’t want to accidentally meet anyone from a brand they viewed as competitors and have to smile awkwardly at each other in the lift. In those days though, there was one ECD who ran the agency and Peugeot and a different CD who would run the Citroen account. The Citroen role was like the British Airways departure lounge. A great brand but a nightmare client process that reduced it to a knock-down bargain-basement brand for over a decade. CDs would come and go regularly, frustrated by the head client’s refusal to allow the word brand to be used in meetings. She didn’t believe in it.

But.

The Peugeot advertising, albeit populist in its creative approach, was the envy of the Citroen guys.

I remember one conversation that the marketing director at Citroen UK had with our bigwigs.

In all seriousness he said “Why can’t I have as good a campaign as the Peugeot guys?”

The reply that he never got but should have had was “Well, it’s the same agency, you figure it out”

So what do you do if you are MSD, Bayer or even some other smaller player?

Unfortunately the only answer, if you care about effectiveness, is to up your creative game. Push your comfort zones, listen to your agencies. Join the game, don’t walk away from it.

Even if you don’t triumph it won’t hurt your business because one of the most powerful business tools is creativity.

So, there is no conspiracy, no bias, no stitch up.

The VMAs need your support but if you don’t think your work is up to it, find a better agency or let your current one spread its wings a little. The entire category will benefit.

Let’s stop it being a one horse, dog, cat, bovine and porcine race.