Despite debates on costs & scams, advertising awards will thrive

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Do award winning ads have a business impact? Should the ad industry be obsessed about awards? These are questions which pop up almost every year in the advertising & marketing industry. Aside from these, the debate around the prohibitive costs of sending entries to advertising award shows and scam work being awarded in such shows has been going around for years. Recently, Publicis Groupe said it would refrain from entering the awards in 2018 choosing to invest the monies saved on its own AI platform. Martin Sorrell said the ‘jury is out’ about WPP’s return in 2018 and also said people feel ‘ripped off’ by the Cannes Lions. Agency networks have acknowledged the huge expenses involved, especially with a premium event like Cannes. And then there is the other debate on scam or near-scam ads being entered for awards – and winning.

I have neither been to Cannes nor have been involved in many award-winning ad campaigns.

During my early days in advertising, I was involved in the execution (carrying artworks, mainly) of a few projects which won major advertising awards of that time. I remember cheering on my then agency (Trikaya, which was a regular at award shows back then) at Ad Club Mumbai and Communication Arts Guild (CAG) awards. But later on, most of the projects I was involved in would have never won at Cannes or any advertising festival for that matter (some were successful in the marketplace though). I also did not rise high enough in my career to become part of any advertising award jury. So I don’t have a first hand experience of high profile award shows like the Cannes Lions. But I do acknowledge that awards are mighty important – they fuel creativity and a just recognition of creative minds.

I am also a firm believer that creative ideas build brands. Dull, boring, run of the mill advertising which are largely ignored only add to the clutter and noise (that’s 90% of the advertising anyway). They need deep pockets to create brand name awareness and market success is dependant on other factors like pricing, distribution etc. In an era where product differentiation itself is virtually non-existent, the only ‘unfair advantage’ a brand has is its creative messaging.

But I also acknowledge that for some in advertising, winning an award takes precedence over creating business success. It is common for big agencies to make an effort to create potentially award winning work. Such work is usually created for non-profits or some obscure organisation. This 2015 video addressed to the Cannes jury, said it all, tongue firmly in cheek.

Even in 2017, there are very few campaigns which were created for real clients to solve real business problems. Most of the award winners are for convenient NGOs and ‘causes’ which seem to be created for awards. So the industry ends with one set of regular or run of the mill ads for clients and another set of dazzling creative ideas for others.

Sure, award winning ideas deserve all the kudos. Creativity does impact the bottom line – it makes business sense. An agency head used to say it is better to outwit competition than outspend them. But I wish such thinking was possible (should we say allowed and accepted by clients?) for everyday work. That happens rarely.

Very few agency-client relationships are based on partnership, mutual trust and a long term view. Most are transactional, short term and have a ‘buyer-supplier’ mentality than that of an equal partner in long term business success. Also, as this article points out, agencies value the relationship they had with their clients far more than vice versa.

I guess no client or agency starts off wanting to produce mediocre work. Their goals maybe lofty but we see the results ourselves – most advertising is simply ignored as it does not grab viewer attention. Several reasons contribute to this scenario: poor advertising strategy, lack of focus or discipline (wanting to say everything in an ad), limited creative ability, death by iteration, lack of senior talent involvement and so on.

In my view, such a situation is ideal for certain creatives to seek projects
where there are no shackles or constraints. The result? Long format web films or better still – find a friendly proctologist or an NGO to create ads which they can plan, approve and execute themselves.

So the motivation for invest in money and effort behind work which is likely to win awards is not too complicated:

– It creates buzz around the agency and as a result a halo
– Awards are an addiction
– Award winning agencies attract a certain kind of creative talent
– Awards brings the agency into the consideration set of potential clients and opens doors

Some argue that clients hate working with award-obsessed agencies. But then what explains the scouting for agency partners at an event like Cannes? I have personally experienced clients asking the agency to produce work like ‘Zoozoos’ (which were popular back then) but not really having the product, strategy or the guts to approve such work for their own brand.

In effect, advertising created with a clear intent to submit as award entry will continue to thrive. The halo around advertising awards, especially Cannes will become brighter.

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