The Rant: My Personal Take On The Scam-Ad Fallout
Volume 34 In a Series By Felix
It’s a good start.
I was going to leave it at that, but I would hardly be living up to my reputation as a frenzied curmudgeon if I didn’t expand upon it. So here I go, for what it’s worth.
Recently, I wrote an editorial outlining a plan, or rather a plea, to ban awards shows. And it appears as though I hit a nerve. Most of you agree that awards shows have become a strange parody of themselves, awarding derivative work and creating a formulaic standard to follow.
To stay focused, I avoided diving into the scam-ad debate. Why go there if you want the awards banned anyway? And then DDB Brasil (an agency not worthy of those revered initials) put an ad out there for the World Wildlife Fund that was not only in extremely poor taste, but also complete bullshit. It never received client approval. (Or did it? Hard to keep up with this fiasco.)
Of course, that didn’t stop DDB Brasil from entering the work into the usual high-profile awards shows like the One Show and Cannes. What’s even more stunning is that this offensive work won a merit award (which has since been stripped from the agency) at the One Show. What kind of crack were the judges smoking that day I wonder?
To add further insult to injury, DDB Brasil then lied about the whole thing in a cover-up job that makes Watergate look first rate. And the fallout from this has been severe, with the One Show issuing rules, for the first time in its history, to punish anyone entering a scam-ad. If you don’t know these rules already, here’s a summary for you:
Effective beginning in 2010:
An agency or regional office of an agency network that enters an ad made for a nonexistent client, or made and run without a client’s approval, will be banned from entering the One Show for five years.
The entire team credited on the “fake” entry will be banned from entering the One Show for five years.
An agency or regional office of an agency network that enters an ad that has run once, on late-night TV, or only because the agency produced a single ad and paid to run it itself will be banned from entering the One Show for three years.
Is it enough? Not really. But like I said at the beginning, it’s a good start. Clearly the One Show is never going to throw up its hands and say “yep, you got us, awards really are a bunch of crap after all.” Aside from the amount of money that would disappear, they’d basically be admitting that their own corner of the ad industry is bunk. And that will never happen.
So what would I do? I would scrap the awards shows. Hey, you already knew that.
But if I were in a position of power in The One Club, The D&AD or Cannes, what would I do? Well first, I would ban the agency for life. No parole. No time off for good behavior. There’s just no excuse for it, and if you do it and get caught, you’re out. YOU’RE OUT! (Thanks, Heidi Klum).
The team, now that’s a different story. Unless everyone on the team knowingly enters something that never ran or never received approval, how do you justify banning everyone? What if the creative team had nothing to do with the submission? What if the account team severely opposed the ad and the CD entered it anyway? This can be solved, more or less, by making sure that every entry has the names and signatures of those submitting the piece. All agree to submit the work and take responsibility if the ad is found to be a fake. With these provisions, I’d then instigate the same lifetime ban on individuals.
Obviously, there are ways to exploit any system, but it would certainly make everyone think twice if they knew they’d be banned from a prestigious award show for life.
On a positive note, and yes I do strike those sometimes, as an award show CEO I would create a new category for work that did not run or receive approval. It would be a catch-all for those pieces that agencies wanted to show off, but couldn’t. And if there’s a legitimate outlet for the work, coupled with harsh penalties for submitting it in any other category, it should eliminate at least 90% of the scam ads.
But what if that’s not enough? What if agencies still try to beat the system? Well, I’d up the ante. Strip an agency of its awards from the previous 5 years. If you enter a scam-ad into the One Show and you’re discovered, you get banned for life and every One Show pencil your agency received for the past 5 years goes bye-bye.
And finally, I would instigate all of the ideas I previously mentioned in my award show rant, including effectiveness criteria, new judges from different fields, and negative marks for work that is derivative and formulaic.
I still think that the award shows need to evolve or die. And this latest development is a start. But as an industry, we really do need to focus on what we’re paid to do. We’re here to sell stuff, pure and simple. If the work that comes out of that process is fantastic, by all means give it an award. However, shiny gongs and accolades need to be a by-product of this business, not a goal. Until we all change our thinking on that, awards will continue to be fool’s gold.