“Juries don’t buy evidence they buy narrative… Our job is to tell the story better than the other guy”.

ojThis is Johnnie Cochrane on The people v OJ Simpson, American Crime Story.  The jury he’s talking about are of course those picked for the famous controversial murder trial in the 1990s.  But could he be talking about any jury?  Including those who are about to judge the awards for the upcoming, packed, 2016 awards season in media and advertising?

It’s been my honour to be in awards juries at several awards over the last 5 years.  First it is important to stress that results are always discussed and a lack of them, or a sense that they’re smoke and mirrors, is usually a deterrent to a win.. usually but not exactly always.

Starting with smoke and mirrors.  The number of times the word “engagement” is used in the results section of a paper is arguably in direct proportion to the robustness of actual outcomes in terms of the client’s objectives for their business.  Here’s one anonymous example that I remember from a recent paper: “we demonstrated significant engagement with the brand, all with a modest media budget”.  This kind of factoid is increasingly a rarity but definitely is to be avoided.

So assuming that a paper has proper results, a great insight and a good logic to the activity, surely it should be a winner.  Here’s where the other guy comes in.  The highly competitive nature of our industry means that you’re not just convincing the awards jury that your campaign was successful, you’re out to convince them that it was more successful than any of the others in the category.

In some instances this might be a very broad competitive framework.  So in 2015 Campaign Media Awards categories were divided largely by sector, and some sectors are very varied.  Fashion, healthcare and beauty as a category might pit Nike versus Rimmel versus Piriteze.  Media Week’s large medium and small categorisations obviously have other brands smashing up against each other – one category might include Clarins v Heinekin v Birds Eye.  Your entry has to cut through, and you don’t even know what the competition is that you are up against when you write it.

Here is Cochrane’s point then.  Your narrative needs to be compelling.  And to overcome the fatigue of the jury member (who might have read 23 entries before they get to yours) and any bias that they might not even be conscious of.

Daniel Kahneman, the nobel prize winning behavioural econometrician, writes about system 1 and system 2 thinking.  System 1 is gut instinct.  System 2 is logical thought.  In a fight for dominance system 1 wins every time.  We like to think that we are in control of our decision making, in fact we decide most things on instinct and then rationalise our decision.  Awards juries do not do this on purpose.  They are usually very diligent and conscientious.  Most have entered themselves over the years and really appreciate the effort that goes into crafting your award entry.  But there are a set of biases that are part of human nature that a winning entry has to overcome.  There’s the “cheerleader bias” where you are drawn to join in with one enthusiast on the jury even if you don’t agree in private.  There’s the “less is better bias” where one strong result will convince a juror more than a list of seven positive metrics can.  There’s the “rhyme as reason bias” which of course Cochrane exploited with “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit”.

Good luck with awards entries for this season.  The winners will have triumphed not just in the clarity of thought that went into the campaign but additionally in the story telling narrative of their entry.



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