What's wrong with advertising award shows?
Before I start my rant, let me say that I love award shows. They generate the best ideas in the industry and they take advertising forward. Award shows also bring attention to the best talent and a great occasion to celebrate ourselves.
However, there are several things wrong with them and they should change to make them promote creative values even stronger. When I'm talking about reforms, I refer to reforms to our own AotW Awards as well.
Here are the four things I consider needs change:
1. Effectiveness isn't considered
Most award show jury members do not take effectiveness into consideration. While creativity is something very subjective and hard to measure precisely, there is one aspect of an advertising campaign that is possible to measure objectively. Effectiveness can be measured by return on investment. Let's put on the table how much profit did you make for spending each advertising dollar. Did the campaign raise brand awareness or perceived value measurably? Such numbers have been measured by all large brands for years. Why aren't they influencing the award show results at all?
One might argue that award shows are about creativity and not business. However we should not forget that the process of advertising is only complete with it's audience. It's mass art that supposed to be understood by the target. If only the only people who get it are insiders and the jury it failed to do its job and it can't be categorized as good advertising. It still can be great conceptual art, but then we should call the award shows art competitions, not advertising competitions.
My suggestion is that ROI is taken into consideration when judging creative and if an ad is counter productive or generates negative ROI it should never be awarded regardless how "creative" it is.
2. Are scams a problem?
It's no secret among the advertising industry that most ads on advertising shows are scam (otherwise known as chip-shop, ghost or fake) ads. Award shows strictly require all submitted material to be real campaigns that run in the media. However award winning ads usually feature ideas and art direction that clients fail to pay for to run for real. Most publication is faked. They are stamp size print ads that appear once in third rate magazines, and TV ads that run on private cable networks once at 2AM. If you need instructions on how to do scam, just read this self promotional piece by Ogilvy.
The organizers know it and try to fight it, but because they are interested in as many payed submissions as possible they shut a blind eye to the big majority of scam that appears on such shows. Recently Dubai Lynx was forced to strip Fortune Promoseven the title of agency of the year after a public outcry from the blogosphere claiming that award winning ads were scams.
Fake publication is a problem for two reasons. It forces creatives to lie or forget about winning awards. I suggest to come clean. There are two solutions to this problem. Let each award show decide which route to take and then enforce it.
Enforce publication requirement. Thorough documentation and a minimum budget requirement of media spending should be necessary to enter. Yes, it will eliminate the hair dresser campaign that you ran for 100USD in the local paper, but at least everybody will play the same field. This option will generate results that are real campaigns with real companies and real audiences. It will showcase real solutions to marketing problems, but probably with less spectacular creative ideas.
Discontinue the need for publication requirement. This way the best creative ideas will compete regardless of budgets and their reality. This would be really close to current competitions but with even more breakthrough creativity. Chip Shop Awards started such an initiative, but I perceive it more of a joke than something that competes with traditional award shows.
3. Patting ourselves on the shoulder
Terry Savage hands over the award to Shackleton Madrid
Let's face it. Award shows are quite a joke outside of the advertising industry. Clients generally don't take results seriously and the general public doesn't care at all. There is a good reason for it. The credibility of such awards is very low because we are awarding ourselves.
JWT's ECD judges DDB's work. DDB's CCO in turn judges JWT's work. Just the night before they both drink and party together on the same beach. (I didn't want to use real examples.) The industry is small and all big shoots know each other. It's just unrealistic to expect from people who know each other and most of the time respect and like each other to be objective. If they hate each other, it's even worse. Their decisions will be consciously or unconsciously affected by their personal relationship.
At fashion shows, the designers are judged by largely independent fashion journalists and fashion critiques. At car shows independent safety and other authorities rank the new models. It would be inconceivable and ridiculous if Vivienne Westwood were to judge Tommy Hilfiger's work. Or if Ford were to rate Volvo's safety ratings. Yet, that's exactly what the advertising industry does.
The solution to this uncomfortable situation is to create jury's that consists of one or a mix of real consumers (like a trial jury), clients or independent advertising critiques probably made up of journalists from major ad publications. Such a jury will raise the value of the awards generating more interest from clients and consequently generating more business for the winners.
4. High cost of entry
The cost of entries for award shows is huge. Agencies spend tens of thousands of dollars on entries to even get a chance of winning something. Recently an agency previously hugely successful at award shows, F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi announced it will not be participating on award shows because they want to spend their extra cash on clients in these pressing times.
I realize that awards shows is a business and therefore entry fees are necessary to generate revenue. However by doing this they are risking that some agencies with less resources, especially upcoming hot-shops have much less chance of winning and showcasing their breakthrough creative work.
Therefore payed award shows will never be able to truly showcase the best creative work, but they show the best creative work merely from rich large agencies.
There is nothing to do about this issue except changing the business model. We make AotW free ironically through advertising. Certain award shows could try to do something similar as well. It would certainly make a differentiating factor for the brave ones.
Finally, let me stress again, that this is not a post to trash award shows, merely an attempt to point out areas which may prove to be opportunities for improvement.