They’ve given it a bronze
It’s debatable who gets damaged more by the ridiculous number of awards systems in advertising – clients or creatives.
And I realise I may sound very churlish saying this – when I’ve spent a lot of my time and other people’s money sitting on ad award juries all round the world ….
To be honest, I’ve always enjoyed judging ad awards – you get to see interesting parts of the world, you invariably meet some great people on the juries, and you sometimes see fresh work. What’s not to enjoy ?
But although they’re good for the juries, and they make good money for the organisers, I’m not sure they’re always in the best interests of the industry.
And I’m not alone in having these doubts.
Years ago, as a youngster sitting at a D&AD dinner, I was lucky enough to hear a speech given by a man called Chris Wilkins, who’s probably one of the cleverest people ever to work in advertising.
His speech that evening consisted in reading out a list of writers whom nobody had heard of – all of whom had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. And then reading out a list of writers we’d all heard of, admired and worshipped – none of whom had won it.
So - how many books have you read by Eyvind Johnson, Harry Martinson Henryk Sienkiewicz, Elfriede Jelinek, Rudolf Eucken, Verner von Heidenstam, Henrik Pontoppidan, Carl Spitteler, Wladyslaw Reymont, Erik Karlveldt, Roger du Gard, Frans Eemil Sillanpaa, Gabriele Mistral, Par Lagerkvist, Salvatore Quasimodo, Saint John Perse, Ivo Andric, or Oe Kenzaburo ?
As opposed to books by … Leo Tolstoy, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Marcel Proust, Ezra Pound, Fernando Pessoa, James Joyce, Vladimir Nobokov, Jorge Luis Borges, August Strindberg, Henrik Ibsen, Mark Twain, Emile Zola, Anton Chekhov, Karel Capek, W H Auden, Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, and Henry James – none of whom got to walk up to the podium ?
His point was simple – don’t take these things too seriously.
Apart from anything else, this speech defused the normally toxic levels of bitterness and envy on the evening, which often mean that you feel sick long before you’ve left for the night.
But the problem isn’t people wandering around spewing out bile on the evening – it’s the damage the whole thing can do to clients and creatives.
Clients are rarely well served by creative awards. My advice to any client looking to find an agency would be to avoid one which takes awards so seriously that it puts them up in Reception.
Creative awards do not get given for effectiveness. And the creative directors who know how to play “the awards game” get hooked on it for all the wrong reasons.
As the American writer David Foster Wallace has pointed out – if you’re obsessed by something, it will end up hurting you. Greedy people never have enough money, vain people are always worried about some aspect of their bodies.
I’ve seen creative directors so wound up by awards that they were spitting blood because they “only” got a silver, not the gold they craved.
But I think more pernicious than this is the anxiety Awards create in the heads of young creative people – because they think they will affect their chances of getting a job.
But, if a creative director is hiring on the basis of how many awards you’ve got, beware.
Either they don’t trust their own judgement (which is worrying, considering that that’s kind of all the job entails), or they’re hooked on them, or they’re under pressure from management to win awards.
And I’ve got bad news for anybody labouring under that particular yoke. The management team who put pressure on you to win awards aren’t gonna change their day-to-day behaviour to help you hit that target. They’re not suddenly going to love outrageous ideas or die on a sword for them.
I’m sure creative awards were introduced to help creative standards. And I’m sure we still need something to perform that function. But right now they feel like a weapon for management to use against increasingly beleaguered creative directors.
I was having this conversation last week with Joe de Souza from Karmarama in a cab in Glasgow – because we were both up there judging the Roses awards. It was a fun two days, with lots of good banter and a great jury.
But as Joe said, Karmarama don’t enter any creative awards.
That doesn’t affect how I feel about their creative work at all, one way or the other. But it tells me they’ve got balls, and they’re not afraid to stand on their own feet, outside any system.
Two very rare qualities – which, ironically, I always want to reward whenever I’m asked to judge.