The Tuesday Rant: Advertising Awards; Self-serving or What?

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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.


  1. Stu Alden August 12, 2008

    About 6 years ago I was at a

    About 6 years ago I was at a design lecture where in the Q&A session the speaker and another seasoned designer got into commiserating about “how designers help increase sales” and how it was “all about their design” and how they should get paid a lot more for what we do. And of course the audience applauded and cheered in agreement.

    I rose my hand and asked, “so if the product/marketing initiative/etc fails do we owe them our fees back?”

    I agree that as an industry we can be instrumental in assisting in the success of our clients marketing initiatives. But even when there is success in a marketing campaign – it really depends on many other factors that aren’t design related – budget for placement – the actual placement itself, depth of launch promotions, PR – is the product/service any good to begin with. do people like blue.

    anyway – I do agree that awards are very subjective. there’s a great quote from a design,

    “if we didn’t give ourselves awards, who would?”

    So do we need awards shows? probably not. But I have come to a place that thinks of them as a snapshot in time. What happened back in 1992? Sort of a yearbook of who was doing what. In that sense I think they can serve a purpose.

    but – it still feels pretty nice if you get some acknowledgment – and in some ways, who better to get it from than your peers since we seem to think the rest of the world doesn’t get us anyway 🙂

    crap I guess I have no idea – if you don’t like them don’t enter. if you do like them enter. if you enter and don’t win – don’t worry it’s all subjective. if you enter and win, congrats you are cooler than others for a moment – until the next bizillionth awards show comes along…


  2. Matt August 12, 2008

    Someone at the Egotist must

    Someone at the Egotist must think awards are pretty important. You paid good money to enter your blog in the 2007 Denver 50.

  3. paul suggett

    paul suggett August 12, 2008

    Don’t mean to instantly jump

    Don’t mean to instantly jump to the Egotist’s defense, they are more than capable. But I think that’s a little different Matt. The Egotist is its own client and those awards are based on feedback from the public.

  4. Matt August 12, 2008

    “Those awards are


    “Those awards are based on feedback from the public.” What do you mean? TD50 is judged by judges, just like One Show, ADCD, or whatever. Sorry, I am slow today.

  5. Matt August 12, 2008

    Paul (and Egotist),
    By the

    Paul (and Egotist),

    By the way, I wasn’t attacking the Egotist. Sorry if it came off that way. I know that it has multiple authors and that Felix’s views may or may not be the same as his fellow bloggers. I was just saying that the Egotist was a deserving winner in the 2007 Denver 50. Just an observation.

  6. The Denver Egotist August 12, 2008

    Felix is a guest columnist on

    Felix is a guest columnist on our site. Do we share Felix’s exact views? Sometimes. Does Felix stir thought and debate on our site? Always. That’s why we like him, and he will forever be invited back to continue the dialog.

  7. paul suggett

    paul suggett August 12, 2008

    Sorry, my bad. I was mixing

    Sorry, my bad. I was mixing it up with the 5280 blog mention. It is I that is slow today. Coffee needed.

  8. G. H. MUMM March 17, 2021

    The underlying problem is that this site and the web are dominated by an unsatisfied group mainly concentrated here. The only conclusion is that they are unsatisfied in life and perhaps design. Direction and quality is and has been compromised, diminished and regretfully lacking. Will it ever be great again?

    Who knows. All we can do is be better and create and live better. Choose better. Centering people out, undermining and attacking them – anything they can desperately grab onto, for any resolution has been misdirected and lost. There is no constructive or deconstruction criticism for the sake of criticism itself from qualified areas. They lack in original concept that does not target and is underlied in resentment and contempt for who knows.

    Be satisfied. There are amazing positive influencers out there who are talented and live what they love to do; they are not as readily to find as the likes of most of you trolls.

    If you don’t like award shows…fucking great. I you do…fantastic. At least they have organized groups with quality control and recognition some of you apparently need to quench your uncontrollable crap you dish out.

  9. Burton M March 21, 2021

    I wanna go to the academy awards for life.

  10. Jake K March 21, 2021

    No, you’ll just have to keep going to private show parties every year in aspen at the gilcrest.

  11. Chris H March 21, 2021

    I have a list of naughty and nice who can attend and who will burn.

  12. Geelix March 21, 2021

    No one can go. You all hide behind your computer; why don’t you handle it with the appropriate person for your own matters…if you have a problem. Instead of doing stupid shit.

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