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Volume 33 In a Series By Felix
The recent Gareth Kay talk has had me pondering his response to the question about award shows; should they be scrapped to help us all focus on the job at hand, and not the gold at the end of the rainbow? Gareth said yes. I say…evolve or die.
The problem with award shows right now is that although they celebrate creativity, most of the time anyway, they rarely consider context or effectiveness. And often, it’s not possible to really know the effectiveness of a big-budget branding campaign. So at the end of the day, the judging criteria is wide-open.
Unfortunately, it’s so wide-open that complete crap like Wrangler’s Animals campaign can win the top gong. I’m still scratching my head on that one. And most of the other work that gets an award is derivative and formulaic.
When you look at some of the award-winning work of the seventies, eighties and early nineties, it was smart and it did the job of selling. Writers like Tony Brignull, David Abbott, Alfredo Marcantonio, James Lowther, Neil French, Bob Levenson and Indra Sinha really knew how to create interest and sell a product or service. It was compelling work. It made you kick yourself in the backside and say “shit, I wish I’d done that.” And the art direction back then was as varied and exciting as the copy. Take a look at The D&AD Copy Book (A.K.A. The Copywriter’s Bible) for prime examples of great advertising.
Now, with a few exceptions, what is the variety we are presented with today? It’s not exactly varied is it? You know the drill, but just in case you don’t, here’s how to win an award in five simple steps.
1: Copy is out. If you must use some, make it less than ten words total.
2: 99% of the ad should be taken up by an image.
3: Make the image some kind of visual gag, usually a juxtaposition between two different objects. Other visuals that work include products out of context, visual surprises and weird collages (to see all of those examples at work, look at any of the latest submissions on AdsOfTheWorld.com).
4: Your headline is your logo and tagline.
5: Don’t explain anything. No product or service benefits. No reason to buy. No facts. Nothing. The logo and the image is good enough to get people flocking to your brand by the millions.
This is what constitutes good advertising these days, and many of the world’s most respected agencies keep on churning this stuff out. Why is this work saturating the market? Simple; it’s being rewarded.
Now some may say that clients are insisting on this kind of work. I’m not buying that, because clients have been convinced to do new and different work for decades. Others say that it’s effective work, and that consumers don’t have time to read ads any more. I call bullshit on that, too. Sure, the long copy ads of old are a tough read to the majority of today’s ADD society, but the Lemon ad for Volkswagen is still fresh and would still be read today. In fact, any of the VW ads from DDB would still work. They’re not copy heavy, they are intriguing and they sell the shit out of the car. Hard facts combined with concise copy make for interesting reading. And that leads to successful advertising.
As Howard Gossage once said, “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interest them, and sometimes it’s an ad.” To say no one reads anything any more is horse manure. Tell that to J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. People still read, libraries are not empty, there is a desire for education and entertainment. The problem is, people can’t read ads because there’s nothing to read any more. Ads do half a job these days. They pique interest but do nothing with it. They start a conversation and leave people hanging. Usually, the takeaway is “oh, I get it.” But what about “oh, I want one” or “I have to go test drive that.” The art of the sale is gone. And yet awards shows continue to hand out shiny trophies for these incomplete efforts. Well, enough is enough.
It’s time to evolve.
We need judges from new walks of life that have new criteria. It’s pointless to bring in judges that will continue to reward the same kind of work, year after year. We need fresh thinking. Now, in The Untouchables, Sean Connery’s Malone said “If you’re afraid of getting a rotten apple, don’t go to the barrel. Get it off the tree.” The barrel in this case is the majority of ad agencies out there, filled with creatives who are pumping out the same derivative work month after month. But most colleges (the “tree” in Malone’s euphemism) are also training students to pump out the same kind of formulaic work.
Therefore, we need to look at agencies doing something new and different, like Poke London, Cunning, and yes, CP&B. We also need to look outside of our industry, and encourage innovators from film, music, industrial design, fashion, technology, science, mathematics, education and, well, anywhere else that fosters fresh, bold thinking. If we keep looking to our own industry professionals, nothing’s going to change any time soon.
I also think that, where possible, effectiveness MUST be a criteria of any advertising award. This is not art or graphic design, it’s advertising. It has a job to do. It has to sell or promote, and there needs to be a reaction. Whether it’s measured through word of mouth or surveys or focus groups, the work must pass an effectiveness test before it can advance to the next round. The John Caples awards have always demanded response rates for any work entered. Why not every awards show? Make the work accountable. If it sold a shitload of product and did it in a new and exciting way that lived up to “excellence in advertising,” then I would be the first one applauding the recipients of the award.
The image in this rant is something I’d love you to send to everyone you know who is associated with an awards show. From a former judge to a current board member, we need to get traction behind this idea and get some validity back to the awards.
And if nothing changes, and awards continue to be given to the same formulaic, slap-on-the-back bullshit I see day in, day out, then I have one word for the board of directors of any awards show.