Like a Gold Lion only golder!

My last post on corruption at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes drew quite a few readers, almost breaking the record on my humble little blog. Thank you…I guess. Nothing like timely controversy to goose a blog.

Anyway, I got to thinking about advertising awards shows and what makes them so popular despite the obvious chicanery. Scam ads are as common as pigeons. Most festivals happily accept them. Now we here tell of rigged juries and the calculated “killing” of good work so as to give crappier offerings a better shot. Corruption at all levels from agencies and festivals alike.

So, what is up with the popularity and propensity of advertising awards shows? The big ones continue to thrive despite shenanigans, to say nothing of economic recession and advertising downturns.

There are exactly three reasons why:

  1. On the receiving end it’s all about the money. Each submission has a startlingly high fee attached. Need I say more?
  2. Agency creative are egomaniacs with inferiority complexes. We think we are awesome and yet crave validation at every turn. I have this defect as much as you do.
  3. Awards shows are boondoggles. The judging and/or ceremonies usually take place in exotic locations, like New York or Cannes. We like going to them.

Money. Ego. Hedonism. In other words a petri dish for the awards show virus to flourish. Indeed, more and more strains are added to Cannes bloated category lists every year.

In a classic episode from season three of the Simpsons, “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?” a routine physical exam at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant reveals that safety inspector Homer Simpson has become sterile after being exposed to radiation. Fearing a lawsuit, plant owner Mr. Burns awards Homer with the “First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence” in exchange for a legal waiver freeing the nuclear plant of all liability.

Hmmmm, Excellence!


Deemed most effective…


Deemed most creative…

Have a look at the “most effective” print ads of 2010, as determined by GFK MRI Starch Communications, a specialist in print-advertising research. According to a report by Michal Galin in AdAge, Starch looked at nearly 90,000 print pieces in order to find the work “that did the best job of moving consumers, as a result of seeing the ad, toward purchase.”

Now look at the award winners for the 2010 Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) Kelly Awards for best magazine campaigns in terms of “creative excellence and campaign results;” a show, by the way, that I helped judge.

There is not one ad that appears on both scorecards. Not one. If I were a reporter my inclination would be to ask: what gives? If “results” are a primary category in both situations then shouldn’t there be considerable overlap?

But I’m not a reporter; I’m a copywriter and creative director blogging about a subject near and dear to my heart. And I wouldn’t ask such a question (at least not sincerely) because I already know the answer. For better or for worse, creative excellence and marketing results have little in common, at least when it comes to CPG and other big categories. The decisive results of these two shows are indicative of a decades-old reality that creativity and results are as different as Republicans and Democrats. This reality is by no means limited to print advertising but exists for all forms in all channels. And it always has. Always.

While creative awards shows have tried to add results as part of the judging criteria, it amounts to little more than lip service. We, and I speak for the vast majority of the creative community, just don’t like making or giving prizes to time tested, research driven advertising campaigns. We ding the work almost as soon as we see it. Why? Just review the slide show from the Starch test. In terms of aesthetics, most of those ads suck, featuring uninspired headlines and huge pictures of people and products. By every creative measure, they fail at surprising and delighting us, at breaking new ground.

On the other hand, the Kelly award winners show a high level of craft, defined by concept, writing and art direction. They are beautiful. They are stunning. And, in their own way, they have probably demonstrated solid results. But according the Starch, they are not the best at driving results.

If this is news to anyone they are either rookies or living under a rock. As I already noted, the dissonance between creativity and selling has been a back and forth argument for eons. There is no easy solution. Obviously, agencies try and ‘do both’ but in the end we either tend to make work that errs on the side of creativity or we push for salesmanship at the expense of aesthetics. Nothing sums it up like the old saw: Make the logo bigger!

And there are those of us who do fake ads to try and win awards because the real ads we make appease only our hack bosses and clients. This is a dangerous attitude and demeanor and I don’t recommend it.

Ironically, I worked on campaigns appearing on both lists. Not sure what that means but at least I’m not predictable.


The almighty “Rep”

Ever notice during the Academy Awards the winners from both sides of the camera always find time to thank their agents and managers, before even co-stars and spouses? They never forget these people. Even when the cut-off music begins they do not leave that stage without thanking the manager(s) who stood by their sides and the agent(s) who put the deals together.

Odd and sad then, that during every –and I mean every- advertising awards show the winners never –and I mean never- thank the men and women who got them the very jobs that are winning them awards!

I’m of course talking about artist representatives; otherwise known as “reps.” A liaison between agency and producer, these are the folks who secure gigs for the photographers and directors who produce all our ads. An indispensable link, and yet they typically go unheralded: by agency personnel and by their own talent.

Why? Maybe it’s a form of restrained prejudice where they are considered “help” and the creative community their masters. More likely our egos and insecurities get in the way. God forbid we share credit with yet another person. Neither option is attractive (to them or us) but either way it’s been like this forever.

Yes, there are exceptions. And yes, I should probably speak for myself. But still, these soldiers of our fortune deserve better.

When I first started out, it was reps that took me to lunch, introduced me to peers, and talked to me when my supervisors wouldn’t. They came to my office, bringing coffee, cookies and directors. Entranced, I even asked a couple of them out on dates! One or two may have even said “yes.” Like I said, theirs is thankless work.

While the digital age permits reels and photos to be viewed over the Internet, the artist rep can and does play a vital role in getting jobs booked.

So… to those many tireless advocates of creativity: for all you’ve done (for me and the industry), for all you’ve endured, and for all you’ve brought to the table- Thank you!

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I was honored to judge the Philadelphia ADDY Awards this weekend. While I did not get to see much of the city I did view a mess of advertising and assorted marketing communications. As is usually the case, this show had a few remarkable pieces, some that were god-awful and lots in between. As far as the winners are concerned, I took a vow of secrecy. I will say the judges were fair and fairly unanimous. The hot category was multi-media, with several fine examples of guerilla and experiential work. Numerous high marks given there.

Refreshingly, I saw no dubious work i.e. potential scam ads. That’s saying something. Indeed, I heard the ‘radio’ we’d just judged in a cab and saw various billboards that were in the show on the highway. In other words: IT WAS REAL! Kudos to the Philadelphia advertising community for their integrity and to Alan Tempest of the Philly Ad Club for putting on such a solid, straight show. The PAC should also be commended for assembling a diverse panel of judges. Of five, three were black. I wish I didn’t have to write how unusual that is.

I’m always amazed by the amount of mundane work that gets submitted to advertising award shows. Here was no exception. For example, we saw many TV commercials featuring little more than a voiceover reading strategy over pictures of the product. No concept. Zip. I realize the world is full of such advertisements. But in an awards show? This I don’t get. Why would an agency or client submit work (paying entry fees and filling out forms) that has absolutely no chance of winning a prize? Every creative director knows the criteria for award-winning material, even if they don’t produce much of it themselves. Don’t get me wrong. Doing so-so work isn’t a crime and neither is entering it into an awards show. It’s just dumb. Yet, I’ve never judged a show (local, regional, national and even global) where the vast majority of entered material wasn’t mediocre.

My agency does plenty of work that isn’t outrageous or remarkable. (I’m not apologizing for it; I’m just being honest.) But because of knowable, rigorous standards in judging criteria, we don’t enter it into awards shows. There is a vetting process. We do not want to waste money or embarrass ourselves. When determining entries, we look at our work with hypercritical eyes. We make many kills.

Therefore, when I see an ad entered into competition that features stock images of people shaking hands or staring into their computers accompanied by copy about “state-of-the-art business solutions,” I say loudly and profoundly: What were they thinking?

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Paul Tilley vacated his post in unimaginably tragic fashion. But the fact remains DDB has no Chief Creative Officer. And now our creative community in Chicago finds itself beset by two more high profile defections: Mark Figliulo is leaving Y&R for a glitzy post at TBWA/CD in New York and Marty Orzio has resigned from Energy BBDO for an unknown job presumably in New York. Rounding out our foursome would be the long-time vacant spot at JWT.

Is this pattern indicative of something foul or is it merely coincidence?
Let’s review. One man committed suicide. The ECD from JWT was fired. Figliulo is taking an once-in-a-lifetime gig. And Marty Orzio is going home. Taken in the aggregate these circumstances hardly seem related or symptomatic of sea change.

Still, it does beg certain questions. Namely, is something wrong with our city’s advertising community? Last year Chicago’s creative awards show became almost as infamous as the great Clios fiasco in the late nineties. Look it up. Both shows were undone. The Clios are coming back. I am on a committee with other local creative directors to try and resurrect ours. Marty, Mark and Paul were on that committee. Clearly, we have our work cut out for us.

I do think we are our own worst enemies. Creatives are a cynical lot. Shadenfreud is real in our ranks, and not just in Chicago but everywhere. A byproduct of competition and creative insecurity, it always will be.

Yet, I don’t think Chicago is beset by worse circumstances than any other city. Orzio’s beloved New York has not been a Mecca of creativity for decades. And Figliulo is taking the reigns at a shop in more disarray than the one he’s leaving.

Other than a handful of shops around the country, who’s really tearing it up? Crispin. WK. BBDO. Not many.

In short, things are tough all over. But I like our chances –both my shop and Chicago’s. At Euro RSCG, the bleeding from previous years has stopped. And while I can’t rightfully speak for any other agency in town, A number of them are very capable of opening up their creative engines.

Some prominent ECDs are leaving, yes. But look at it this way. Now we have choice jobs in play. Who out there will fill them?

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