If you work in advertising or marketing, it's award season now that Super Bowl and the Grammys are over. As you may have heard, advertising awards are and have always been the most tangible evidence of excellence for ad agencies, and the individuals who create award-winning work get better raises, promotions and job options. On the flip side, many of their clients fear their focus is on winning awards, not helping their business.
Personally I love awards. Over the years, I got some nice ones and I believe they represent for the most part work that connects better with consumers. I've spent a large part of my career telling clients they should enter awards and go to Cannes because the experience will change you. Moreover because the most awarded work is proven to be more effective. I've been on the Titanium and One Club juries, and I'm coming to the realization that it's time for a major rethink on the current approach to awards. Increasingly people are being groomed to create work that they think juries will love and do whatever it takes to get that produced. When that coincides with bringing a great solution to the client's problem into the world what's not to love, right?
"Judging by how popular it is for companies to describe everything from wine to movies as "award-winning," it's clear there are some benefits, says Philip Thomas, Chief Executive of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. "For individuals in our industry, awards mean promotion and new opportunities; for companies awards mean new business, better talent, and third-party endorsement. That's the thing with creativity - it's subjective. Clients and talent look for outside confirmation they are making the right choices. Clients now make up 25% of the attendees to Cannes Lions, and increasingly they are challenging themselves to win at the Festival. And maybe that's the main reason that creative awards should matter to agencies; because increasingly they matter to clients, who can see as clear as day that creativity drives their business."
The Gunn Report research and shows like Cannes have convinced companies like P&G that the most awarded work is also the most effective.
Regan Ebert, Senior Vice President of Marketing at the Dr Pepper Snapple Group concurs: "I always used to worry when I felt like our agencies were too focused on winning awards. However, this past summer, I went to Cannes for the first time, and reviewed a number of case studies that demonstrated that the Cannes award winning work was also extremely effective at driving the business. I definitely believe award-winning work is much more likely to get noticed, and therefore help the business. Coming out of our trip to Cannes, at Dr Pepper Snapple Group, we're challenging our agencies to create award winning work."
But more and more with analysis of what wins awards (especially Cannes) and production talent specializing in doing 'award winning entry videos' getting far more attention internally than what solves the client's problem, clients are left to wonder if the agency cares about their business. In many situations it's blindingly obvious to clients when ideas land in front of them that don't solve their problem and there was another agenda the whole time. Clients have always held that suspicion. It's just a lot more prevalent now when the agency awards machinery that is barely hidden behind the curtain is in overdrive. It's fair to say that I've always focused on bringing the best solutions to clients and in the process if the work wins an award, that much better. The work itself however never started from a position of award worship.
While I'm for award shows and against award worship, other outspoken industry leaders have taken a more scorched earth policy. Earlier this year, the global creative head of DDB, Amir Kassaei, declared awards shows to be irrelevant and bad for the advertising industry. According to a speech he gave during Advertising Week Canada last month, he said DDB is opting out of award shows, while at the same time mentioning that DBB had historically won a trunk full of Cannes Lions.
For many years of my own career, awards were important, completely. It was an all-consuming endeavor that I loved it with a passion. And when we won an award, I loved it like my own child. Which in many ways it was. But then one day, I heard Nancy Vonk speak about awards. And she crystallized a grating that had been growing inside me during the past few years.
"I loved winning awards and absolutely believe there's a place for them. But perhaps it's time for a reframe, even as more and more agencies redirect money and people away from the awards chase." Nancy is the co-founder of Swim, a creative leadership-training consultancy and former chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather - she's also on the board of The One Club Advertising Awards. "Many agencies pour huge amounts of time, energy and resources into creating work that will convince a jury member it's solid gold. Strategies to up the odds of winning are too often at odds with good business sense. If the best people only want to focus on the accounts with the highest potential to win; if clients sense the agency has their eye off the ball; if an excellent employee thinks they're seen as worthless because they didn't bag a Lion---that agency had better buckle up. A heavy piece of hardware is a hollow badge if you've lost money, accounts and talent in the pursuit."
Last year my team and I won a coveted Gold Lion at Cannes. The satisfaction was enormous. It had an effect on our clients, teammates and also on attracting new clients. But how the heck does a shiny piece of metal achieve all this? Well as Philip Thomas pointed out "Creativity is subjective." And in that simple thought lays the answer.
"There is great work that may not get an award," says PJ Pereira, co-founder of Pereira & O'Dell." But any agency that gets a prestigious statue are surely playing a high level game - not only on that piece of work but in others too, cause the discipline it takes to get one world class campaign always spreads through the rest of the work too."
"A good awards show maintains exacting standards for the industry it recognizes, and is a source of inspiration. A respected award serves as authentication of quality work," says Kevin Swanepoel, CEO of the One Club. A respected award serves as a recruitment tool, allowing agencies to attract and retain talent. An agency that wins awards is an agency that can be trusted to move the needle for a brand, and creatives who win awards are verified as talented, seasoned professionals.
Last weekend during the Super Bowl debate erupted around the change in creativity on display. Many pundits watching the advertising on Super Bowl 50 felt that most of the ads lacked an idea and were designed instead for clicks and shares.
Chris Staples founder of Rethink, a top Canadian creative agency with its own room full of glittering awards, feels that this is a strong indication of the creative quality of the ads. "It's 2016. Back in the last century, we needed judges to tell us if ads were good. Now everyone who can click a "like" button is a judge. I'll trust the opinions of real people over a few jaded ad hacks any day."
"When I was coming up in the creative ranks, winning awards was the best way to get recognition, a raise and quite often, your next job. The only award our clients cared about back then was an Effie, an award given for work that worked in the marketplace," says Helayne Spivak Director VCU Brandcenter. "I do think award shows today are important for other reasons. They are curators of the finest advertising being done today. If you happen to be awarded a Gold, a Silver, a Bronze or a Titanium...you definitely have arrived. However, even if you leave award-less from Cannes, with the quality of the people who surround you and what you can take back with you in the form of re-energized thinking, everyone comes away a winner."
Perhaps the most important role for the bigger award shows is to help promote the industry they reward, again as Nancy Vonk says: "To have any real relevance into the future an awards show has to do more than fluff egos and throw parties. The bigger shows have platforms that could be used to support sustained success of a struggling industry. The One Show uses its awards entry fees to fund educational programs for students, clients, leadership training and diversity initiatives. That's an example to copy."
Got to end this article here. Time for me to go enter our latest ad for SunTrust in some awards.