By / /
Volume 5 In a Series By Felix
Anyone out there know who Martin Scorcese is? Up until The Departed, he had never won the Best Director Oscar. Rewind a few years and the same was true of Steven Spielberg. Al Pacino never won Best Actor Oscar until Scent Of A Woman (hoo-aah… what a bunch of BS). And yet would their careers have been any less amazing without these awards? Is the work they did on other films, movies that never won Oscars, any less important? Easy answer, right?
If we apply the same logic to advertising, we soon get to the same simple conclusion (well, I do anyway) that awards don’t really count for anything. And when you consider what kind of work wins awards, and the ridiculous process of judging these events, you wonder why the awards exist in the first place, other than as a self-serving bunch of hokum.
The first problem with awards these days is that they’re a target; a big, bright flashing target. And that target is rarely in the same vicinity as the client’s. Let us not forget why we advertise; we do it to push someone’s product or service, from high-level branding ads to the lowly direct mail pieces. Now, when a brief comes in the door from a big client with major marketing dollars attached to it, the first place creatives seem to go is the awards podium; “This is the one, this is One Show Gold right here” I’ve heard people say. And yes, that once included me I’m ashamed to admit.
But you can’t win One Show Gold unless the idea is as pure as the driven snow. It has to be free from all blemishes. It has to be seminal. It has to be a thing of beauty, a work of art.
Hang on… art? Mr. or Mrs. Client didn’t pay for a piece of art. They didn’t want one. They wanted to “see the goddamn sales curve go up” as Rosser Reeves once said (please, look him up if you don’t know the name). What’s more, advertising awards follow the trends. Look at what was winning the awards thirty years ago and look at what is winning awards today. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to win an award that zigs when the others zag. For instance, how many awards have been given out in recent years to ads that are not, for lack of a better word, posters? Not many. The visual ads with the logo in the bottom corner are the norm in the awards circuit.
I think this is because the judges are human. They look at work they’d like to be doing and judge it accordingly. But is that right? Shouldn’t there be a basis for these awards that takes into account, heavily, the purpose of the advertising. This brings to mind a car TV spot that was winning awards around a decade ago. It included a technology called “data blast” which asked viewers to record the spot on their VCR (remember those?), then play it back and pause appropriately so that they could read reams and reams of info on the new sporty motor. It failed, miserably.
Product recall was rotten, no one had a clue what was going on and no one could be bothered to hit the record button when the commercial was playing so that they could read a fuzzy brochure later on. Did that stop it from scooping awards? No way, the creatives walked away with armfuls of shiny gongs, patting themselves on the backs for a job well done. It was as if the awards industry was saying “screw the results, we thought it was fantastic.” But that kind of thinking is just plain wrong. Advertising has a job to do, it serves a purpose… and that purpose is not to put another self-serving award on your shelf. Ogilvy knew this, take a look at some of the less-than-glamorous work he produced that had killer results. Bottom line: awards should be the afterthought; results should be king.
Anyone who thinks I’m bitter because I probably haven’t won any awards, let me burst that little bubble. I’ve won plenty… and for a second I actually thought they meant something. When you win a gold anything, you feel fantastic. But this is not the Olympics, and gold is definitely not the goal. At the end of the day, the best reward I can get is to see the advertising bring in stellar results for the paying client. Whether it’s heightened product awareness or a massive surge in sales, those kinds of rewards are far better than any shiny gong.