Scam ads and awards: an addiction with no fix

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In the wake of some dodgy work being rewarded at Cannes, the old debate about scam ads has cropped up again. It is no secret that many agencies (barring a handful) actively seek to create work meant for awards. Such work has the following common characteristics: a likely social good cause, a relatively unknown association or group as ‘client’, a theme which will appeal to a jury made up mostly of westerners (who are likely to have a stereotypical view of Asia and India) and so on. It would all be harmless fun but for the fact that:

– teams are looking out for, ideating and executing such ideas when they are seemingly paid to address real business problems of real clients through creative thinking. It certainly is a time, money and energy-consuming distraction. Ironically the agency may well be giving tacit approval of such activity as awards are linked to visibility and peer recognition

– advertising is not art for art’s sake: it has to deliver on a commercial objective primarily. While award shows may celebrate creativity it has to be linked with effectiveness.

– agencies are shamelessly exploiting human misery and tragedy to pursue award winning work

In my view, this addiction for awards has no fix – no pun intended. The reasons:

– the industry is ruled by a handful of holding companies which typically have a host of agencies under them. There is a ‘race’ among such agencies for awards; the CEO of a network agency is likely to be compared (and rewarded or reprimanded) to another agency CEO on the basis of awards won (sure business matters too). Naturally this leads to some engineering – of teams which look for such opportunities and deliver such work. Business is not exactly booming, margins are thin – so aside from growth (which is likely to be spectacular only for a few) the other yardstick for success is awards, which is relatively easier to deliver if one follows the unwritten rules

– every agency is likely to have a few anchor clients who contribute the most to the agency bottom line. Such clients are unlikely to demand ‘award-winning work’. If anything they demand work that delivers in the market place. Very few such mainstream clients manage to get work which is both effective and wins awards. They have not taken a strong stand about their agency indulging in ‘scam’ work. If such clients complain about the best of agency resources being used for distracting scam work, the agencies may pay heed

– needless to say, awards deliver visibility and attracts big name talent in creative

– A majority of the agency output is along predictable lines. Such freewheeling projects maybe seen as a ‘right’ and a means to escape the drudgery.

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