Ben Grossman of DONER on the Importance of Big Ideas | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

Ben Grossman of DONER on the Importance of Big Ideas


What will it take to have your work make it to the winners' circle? ANA's Judges' Journals features a series of Q&A sessions with leading industry executives participating on 2024 ANA Award juries. You can gain insight from the judges on what they will be looking for and what makes the difference between a good versus award worthy submission. Ben Grossman, chief strategy and integration officer at DONER is participating in ANA's 2024 ANA Award juries, specifically as a REGGIE Awards judge. Denise McDevitt, SVP of award programs at ANA, spoke with Grossman to discuss what the judges will be looking for and what makes the difference between a good versus exceptional submission.

What current trends are you seeing in brand activation marketing? What has been the biggest shift since a year ago?

Data-driven decision-making.

While brand activation has always been relatively strong at proving its impact, I'm seeing more rigor go into the strategy and insights that lead to brand activation. That's good news for brands and businesses, because it can drive better (and less subjective) work – and fewer misses.

And its good news for marketers, because a clearer story can be told about the direct cause (brand activation) and effect (business results).

Every entrant wants to know what it will take to win a REGGIE Award. What campaign components will you be looking for this year to distinguish good versus exceptional?

The strongest cases are always the ones that defy expectations to achieve tremendous impact.

When I think about recent winners, the good cases comply with conventions and time-tested approaches. The exceptional cases are the ones that tell a clear and methodical story about how a team arrived at a novel solution that ultimately delivered impact beyond what businesses, brands and the judges would have previously expected.

In the submission form, we ask REGGIE entrants to impress and excite us with the "ah-ha" solution they developed. What elements are you expecting the entrant to share in this section? What are you hoping to learn regarding the creation of a team's big idea?

A great "ah-ha" solution is a fundamental act of creation, not just cleverness.

When I read a case study, I look to learn not only how this solution came about, but also how it unlocked a path forward and level of impact that would have previously been unattainable. Framed optimally, the team's big idea feels undeniably right and irresistibly novel.

An effective performance evaluation framework is critical to show the value of a marketing campaign. What type of evaluation framework do you use when assessing brand activation marketing efforts? What metrics and KPIs will you expect entrants to provide in their REGGIE submissions?

The biggest mistake I see in evaluation frameworks is an overemphasis on the ultimate business result (return on investment), without the necessary proof that the "big idea" and associated marketing efforts are what drove it.

A convincing performance evaluation framework does four things:

  • Accurate Attribution. Address potential confounding variables, so I know the metrics are widely a result of the brilliance of the marketing, not something else.
  • Marketing Success. Demonstrate outstanding marketing- or tactic-level metrics, so I can see the in-market performance of the campaign ecosystem.
  • Audience Impact. Show a change in the audience's perception or behavior, so it's clear real people not only interacted with the campaign but were changed by it in some way.
  • Business Result. Yes – ultimately I want to see the return on investment for the business proven out in a way that contemplates both the total cost of the effort and total benefit to the business.

We have a variety of "realities" to work in these days, XR, AR, MR, VR. How will you assess the entries that implement an integration of traditional and new tech realities in their brand activation marketing efforts?

In my mind, a campaign simply making use of – or reference to – another "reality" does not constitute an idea. And I often find that some of these seemingly cutting-edge efforts actually are hampered by their inability to meaningfully scale to broad audiences beyond early tech adopters. I think we saw that with a lot of the metaverse activations that brands attempted last year.

As a result, I tend to be most impressed by entries in this field that find ways to drive meaningful accessibility to broad audiences. I want to understand why the "big idea" was actually made better by the use of the alternate "reality" technology. And I care about how the technology experience was made broadly accessible to people with different abilities and levels of savviness.

I want to know what type of work inspires you; give us an example of work that made you say "I wish I had done that."

In 1995, long before I worked at Doner, a few of my present-day colleagues were responsible for the creation of Coca-Cola's "Christmas Caravans." Nearly 30 years later, that nearly verbatim idea and brand activation are still in market driving business results.

Just this year, LBB reported that System1's Creative Effectiveness Platform gave it the highest possible rating, proving it to be "arguably the most iconic and timeless Christmas advert ever." What I love is that it is total brand activation. It marked the first scaled seasonal packaging initiative in the industry, featuring Haddon Sundblom's art on "Santa Packs" that drove sales at shelf. It gave birth to an indelible branded song – "Holidays Are Coming" – that over one-third of Brits report singing it daily during the holidays. The Christmas Trucks are routinely brought to life as experiential activations and children's toys alike.

It's work that's stood the test of time but is still relevant in our time... and it's delightful. I absolutely wish I had done that.

My last question: If you could offer just one key suggestion, one request in your role as a REGGIE awards judge to teams preparing their entries. What would it be? How would you complete this sentence: "If nothing else, be sure your submission ______________________."

If nothing else, be sure your submission was read by someone who had no prior knowledge of the work.

When any of us writes about our own work, we're plagued by the curse of knowledge – we know far more than the average person about our case and its context. I find asking a qualified third party with no personal background on the work to read the entry and provide feedback before submitting improves every case. It's a great way to give yourself a judge-like set of eyes before the case is scrutinized by your peers.

The ANA REGGIE Awards celebrates the most innovative, impactful, and groundbreaking brand activation campaigns of the year.

The final deadline to submit work into the 2024 REGGIE Awards program is January 26, 2024.
Awards will be presented to top agencies and brands for the best brand activation marketing campaigns of 2023 across 27 different categories. The event culminates with some special segments, including the awarding of the ANA SeeHer REGGIE GEM Award and the SUPER REGGIE Award announcement, honoring the overall best campaign of 2023 chosen from the gold category winners.

The REGGIE Awards Celebration will take place on Tuesday, April 16, 2024 in Carlsbad, CA, on the second evening of the 2024 ANA Brand Masters Conference.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Denise McDevitt is SVP of award programs at ANA.