By Darren Gilbert
There is no doubt that the inherent acknowledgement of talent and hard work is beneficial to those involved, particularly in the ad world, where they serve to build up agencies and the creatives that work within them. For another industry such as public relations, they can act as light beacons, attracting clients in the process. If you talk with The Jupiter Drawing Room Cape Town’s executive creative director Ross Chowles, you’ll see their value for those who wish to learn from the accolades. “Awards show you what works, what is great and how you do it.”
However, to simply leave the conversation as ‘awards are good and nothing more should be said’ would be a serious misjudgment. There is also a darker side to them. For Chowles, the issue arises when some agencies begin to pursue awards as their primary objective. “[As an advertising agency] your job is to find a way to sell more products. That is your primary mission. If you do it well enough, you may get an award for it. However, as soon as you begin saying that you are going to win an award, you had better be careful.”
While placing the pursuit of awards as your top objective might lead to initial success, it is not a recipe for long-term triumph. And yet, it frequently is the key objective. One only has to add Jono Shubitz, a former executive creative director of Ogilvy Cape Town and now creative director at OFyt, to the conversation to understand that for agencies, awards are important. Winning at the Loeries, the One Show or at Cannes brings instant recognition to smaller agencies and bolsters the reputations of more established ones.
Now, while this is all good and well, it can also lead to an inflated sense of self-worth - a situation that can ultimately be detrimental to any agency, according to Chowles. “The problem is that you can’t look at awards to figure out the state of an agency’s creative thinking … because while you may win at some award shows, you’ll also not win at others. [The real measurement] can be found by looking at the body of work.” A perfect example of this, as Chowles points out, is Hunt Lascaris of the 1980s, where its work for clients could be pointed out at will and the same work won every award. Sadly, that is not the case today.
This is not to say that the advertising industry as a whole is lacking in creative ability. In fact, both Chowles and Shubitz believe that the state of creative thinking is strong. However, there are still issues. “It’s how some agencies work [that] is so dangerous,” says Chowles. “Some agencies have this two-tier structure [where] they have three hot teams who just do awards work. This is the work that is not for real clients. And then the rest of the people have to do the work that makes the money.”
It’s what is known as ‘scam advertising’ – doing work that no one will ever see for the sole purpose of entering it into awards. It’s a worry, says Shubitz, who adds that besides the fact that it creates confusion around the role of advertising, it leads to another problem. “Mistrust. Clients will stop trusting you and start to believe that you are just using them to get your next award.” It’s a reality that Chowles doesn’t deny. “Even when we are really trying to solve a problem, if it looks like a provocative idea, there is that belief that we just want to win an award. It’s the industry’s own fault though. We’ve brought it on ourselves.”
Fortunately, Chowles believes that there is a solution. “I think it has to start with the creative directors who say no to scam [advertising]. The only way it will get better is if they start saying that they want to win with respect; they want to win awards for tough clients. Winning an award for a tougher client makes it more valuable.” Shubitz is just as adamant, with good reason. “When agencies do scam work in a bid to win awards, it’s usually copycat work. It may be funny but it’s not generally fresh work.”
“At OFyt, we want to win awards,” he continues. “But we want to do it the hard way because that is the right way. Advertising is not about winning awards. Awards should rather be seen as secondary.” It’s the same for the PR industry, believes Lange 360 managing director, Ruth Golembo. “We don’t execute campaigns to win awards.” Instead, you should focus on producing good work with the hope that you get an award. Winning awards is good. Just don’t pursue them as your primary objective. Let others provide you with the recognition you deserve.