Aug 15, 2007

Tricks Of The Trade

A friend of mine got an ad into CA yesterday, and while I was glad for him (it was a nice ad) I have to admit that my first thought was “CA? Are they still around?”

Award shows fall in and out of fashion as the industry changes. CA and the One Show, the West and East coast stalwarts of the 1980s and 90s (respectively) never really adapted to the digital age and thus started to become less relevant. Meanwhile Cannes, formerly a place for big agencies to show off their television work, has stepped into the limelight.

Why is that? Well, first and foremost, award shows are a business, not some sort of quasi-official ceremony. In other words, they rely on agencies paying money—lots of money—to enter their shows in hopes of winning. Look at the UK’s D&AD awards. After years of claiming exclusivity by fastidiously not granting pencils in categories where they felt none were deserved, they’ve sort of been hoisted on their own petard, as agencies started realizing “why are we paying them $10,000 in entry fees if we’re not going to get anything to show for it?” (Clients being notoriously unaware of the difference between a D&AD pencil and say, a Mobius.)

Cannes, to their credit, realized that if agencies were going to spend money on award shows, and send their top creatives to judge them, the idea of an all-expenses paid vacation in the south of France was an especially effective lure. That, and they managed to get the digital and direct things right, thus drawing in a lot of top talent and top work from all areas. And the non-American location makes the whole thing seem decidedly “global.”

And speaking of Cannes, conversations with friends around the industry reveal that pretty much every agency came away from Cannes with the idea of replicating Saatchi New York’s success formula. (For those of you who missed it, Saatchi’s CD, Tony Granger, got their P&G clients to run and (allegedly) pay for a series of ads that were created expressly for Cannes. So while an unusual print campaign for Tide won the Grand Prix, consumers (or the vast majority of them, anyway) never actually saw it.

Now this reminds me of nothing so much as “Fallon Syndrome” in the late 80s and early 90s, where every big agency and junior team went out to try and find a barber shop or hot dog stand they could do ads for, in the hope of replicating the success of such Fallon classics as “A Bad Haircut Can Make Anyone Look Dumb.” (accompanied by a stock photo of Einstein.) A similar strain, “Martin Syndrome” had everyone looking for small quirky museums in need of free advertising.

This is just as dumb an idea today as it was 15 years ago. First off, great work is never easy to pull off, regardless of how many restrictions you remove. But more importantly, as agencies learned to their chagrin back in 1991 or so, if everyone is entering their ad for a barber shop into the One Show, your chances of winning get exponentially smaller.

So what to do? Well how about changing the rules. I mean Saatchi didn’t officially cheat, but come on—what they did certainly wasn’t in the spirit of the rules. Why not change the rules to require that in order to be entered in certain categories, a campaign has to represent a certain percentage of a brands' yearly spending*. Or some other device that prevents agencies from creating campaigns for awards shows.

Letting clients pay for ads that are created for award shows is truly counterproductive. All it does is reinforce the notion that creativity is a precious little indulgence that’s okay for award shows, but that “real” advertising is something completely different.

And that’s just dangerous.

*This is just an off-the-cuff suggestion—please refrain from stating why it makes no sense. Suffice it to say I’m sure it doesn’t.


Anonymous said...

i know. CA is starting to feel like a bit of a relic now. pre-internet, awards annuals used to be the only way to see the best stuff. imagine that!

but now you've already seen it all online anyway. so why bother?

Anonymous said...


It's also funny to think that advertising was even capable of becoming more disposable, but it really has over the last few years.

Seeing good work used to be like a breath of fresh air. The arrival of the One Show or new CA annual or even Archive was like Christmas morning.

Now its everywhere. All the time. Good or even great stuff is easy to find.You don't have to hunt or wait for it. Which is cool in one way, but it also feels like great work has become devalued in the process.

I'm all for more good work in the world. But personally, as an Ad Guy, I liked it better when there was just enough great work out there to show me a little cleavage and keep me interested. Now there's so much it just feels kind of cheap and slutty.

Alan Wolk said...

Interesting guys.
I've added a poll (bottom of right-hand column) to see if others share the same opinion
@fatc: I 100% know what you are talking about. And what does fatc stand for anyway? (You don't have to answer if it's personal or something.)

Scamp said...

Awards still v. important.

How the hell else do you get a pay rise?

Anonymous said...

"fatc" is shorthand for a specific guitar neck profile (the back of the neck that fits in your palm).
As in, "Some players prefer an oval or V-shaped neck, but I like a nice, fat C."

@scamp: Yes, awards definitely lead to raises, assuming you work for an agency that follows through. Then again, I can think of lots of folks who've won quite a few and still had to land a new job to truly capitalize on them in that way. So it's not necessarily automatic. Never mind the Junior Creative who wins some. Even if he gets a 100% raise, he's still not making much. So they still matter. But I'll wager that they'll begin to matter less, simply because so much work is available online now and the Annuals are fast-becoming an afterthought. And if the Annuals are an afterthough, having your name appear inside them doesn't mean nearly as much as it used to. Not to say its irrelevant. Just not the big deal it used to be. The same way finding a record store that sold punk rock records in a small town used to be a big deal. Now its all online. There's no anticipation. No hunt. And very little sense of discovery. Therefore, like anything in great supply, it's less special. And ultimately, demand for it will reflect that.

Alan Wolk said...

@fatc: Thanks for the explanation. Oe mystery solved.

@scamp: thanks for joining in the convo. I would echo what fatc said about getting into an annual being less special these days-- his record store analogy was particularly apt.

I'll add that awards seem to be far less important to interweb creatives.

Part of that this because in the early days, the guys doing the really cool stuff didn't enter advertising award shows because they didn't think of themselves as working in advertising So the work winning interactive Gold Pencils was pretty unimpressive to most of them, and the shows became very closely associated with the interactive arms of big agencies.

Another reason, is, as TSR noted in his comment to The Poll, interweb work isn't well-suited to the award annual/museum of advertising format.

And then finally, they're just as jazzed about getting mentioned on a favorite website or blog as they are about getting recognized by a bunch of judges whose names mean nothing to them.

Which is all a really long-winded way (sorry) of saying that chances are award show wins are going to have less and less of an effect on your career (and salary) going forward.