June 15, 2024

What makes an award matter?

This month, lots of marketing types are descending upon Cannes – and hopefully returning with some shiny new hardware for their office shelves. We all know the Oscars and the Grammys, but industry awards are just as much a tradition in many parts of the economy. There are trophies for everything.

But do they mean anything? It depends.

I wrote about that question in month's issue of ADWEEK, for both their print and online issues. Here's a snippet:

Awards certainly feel like a big deal, but the science shows us that for awards (and other traditional outward markers of success) to work, it requires more work.

When something is hard to judge based on material facts and figures, we look to signals to help us evaluate our options. We might buy a particular brand of golf clubs because Tiger Woods uses them. For most of us, it’s difficult, even impossible, to know which putter is the best-engineered, so we take the shortcut of reading and following signals. They allow us to save on what psychologists call “search costs."

Signals are perception-movers. They change the way we see and think about the world. If used right, they can change the choices we make.

It was a ton of fun sharing this with a publication I've long admired. Go check out the full article here.

And while I have you, here's a bonus bit that was cut for length (though it might be my favorite part). Imagine this right before the end:

But before we run off bragging about everything, we must avoid a dangerous trap with perception-movers. In our minds, accolades and arguments don’t add up – they get averaged. This is known as the “dilution effect,” a form of judgment bias first described in a series of studies by Richard E. Nisbett, Henry Zukier, and Ronald E. Lemley.

Think of it this way: If I told you that somebody was featured in the New York Times, you might be impressed. But if I told you that they were in the New York Times, the Pawnee Gazette, and the Smallville High Alumni Quarterly, are you still impressed? When it’s just a single piece of evidence, we can make a verdict on just that. But when we’re shown multiple things, our minds tend to place judgment somewhere in the middle. We don’t stack the evidence on top of each other, we average them.

This is why movie trailers exclaim “Academy Award Winner Meryl Streep” but leave out her wins from the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the AARP Movies for Grownups Awards. Nothing against those organizations, but in this domain, they don’t carry the same heft as an Oscar. Like these trailers, you should pick your winning argument and shout it from the rooftops.

Now excuse me while I brag about some of the book awards we snagged for Simply Put.

About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, just wrote his first book (Simply Put), and works with cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

Get my new book, it just came out.

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