The online business editor at the Herald kindly gave me the option of a couple of subjects for this article: either the advertising industry's fixation with creative awards; or the amount of copying that goes on in the advertising industry. As a strong believer in effectiveness, I thought I'd have a go at doing both at the same time.
Let's start with the Axis Awards.
Those readers not familiar with the advertising industry will be unaware of its enthusiasm for awarding itself shiny baubles which it does with the frequency and fervour of a South American dictator on his birthday.
The most recent ceremony was the NZ Axis Awards, where 800 or so Mad Men and Women gathered to drink, compare outfits and confirm to each other how talented they are. (At least to their faces.)
Personally, I like the Axis awards, for its local relevance and sociability, but I am less impressed with the burgeoning international award shows.
While they claim to be solving world hunger, AIDS and over-fishing, all by running a Twitter ad, their real reason for being seems to be to enrich the organisers by preying on the vanity of the industry. This vanity is a rich seam to mine which means that there are a whole bunch of shows, the results of which are collected into something called The Gunn Report, a league table of advertising wonderfulness.
Personally, I'm not in favour of the Gunn Report (even though its founder, Donald Gunn is a very nice man).
Its supporters claim it shows which is the most creative agency in the world. Wrong. All it tells us is the one that has won the most awards. If you think that's the same thing I'm afraid you're in the wrong business.
The Gunn Report adds up points from a number of the award shows across the globe, but declines to tell you which ones, so if you want to do well you need to enter all of them, just in case. It concluded last year that the best and most awarded print campaign in the world was for a brand of plastic toy soldiers from Singapore. This work was clearly a scam (a campaign that agencies do for their personal glory without really having either a client or a media budget). Awarding scams in this way encourages the ambitious to do as many as they can and enter them into as many awards shows as they can find, in order to maximise their standing. This practice does very little to help the industry be taken seriously by clients and helps only the careers of the scammers.
There are way too many international shows, but as the industry keeps entering them, so they keep growing. At each show the same people judge the same work. The only real difference between shows is which fancy location they're held in: Las Vegas, New York, London, Phuket and Bali are popular choices. Each jury is picked from a small pool of those creative directors who enter the awards in the first place. Having already donated a decent chunk of their agency's money entering the awards, the jurors are then flown in to do whatever they can to ensure that their own work gets through. Whoops, I mean to judge the most deserving winners from everyone else's work.
Despite this, award shows are not all bad. I've judged at many and I enjoy the competition, I enjoy the debate, and most importantly I enjoy meeting clever people from around the world and learning from them.
What I don't enjoy is the amount of work which is entered purely to win awards rather than to actually sell anything; and the jurors who think that's just fine as long as they get their own shiny trophy to take home. It also upsets me when someone attempts to draw scientific conclusions from what is a completely subjective process. I'm sorry, Mr Gunn, I'm sure your intentions were good, but I think you're doing the industry a big disservice. Your report does little to encourage good work. Rather it is a Pandora's box that rewards scams, awards-chasing, biased jurors and I really wish it hadn't been opened. In the meantime, I need to fly off to Dubai to collect The Golden Cockerel of Kazahkstan.
'So what about copying', the observant reader might ask, 'you haven't really mentioned that'. I don't need to. This article is a copy of one that I wrote ten years ago. It explains why we started an agency based on the effectiveness of our work.
- Paul Catmur is the chief executive of advertising agency Barnes, Catmur & Friends Dentsu.