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

Effie award winning creative work.

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?

Self promo ad from Ogilvy Ukraine

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.

Option 1
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.

Option 2
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

Cannes Lions '07 winner from F/Nazca Saatchi

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.


TRICKY's picture
3950 pencils

Awards shamwards ..DID IT SELL?

Guest's picture

Great article Ivan. I totally agree with your points and would add another: degree of difficulty should be considered as well. I think that good work for a big brand should trump great work for a mom & pop / spec client. And conversely, a small / non-existent budget should outweigh a massive budget (this goes into your point about measuring ROI). This one thing that *should* be better about having fellow creatives judge the work; they should be able to know which client or brief was more difficult to pull off and strongly consider that in their deliberations. Some shows / annuals are better at this than others.

Guest's picture

I have, for quite some time now, deliberated about the value of award shows myself. Being a small, boutique creative shop in the US Midwest, I often wonder about the validity of the work if I am putting so much of myself into it.

Don't get me wrong, I love my work and genuinely enjoy serving my clients, I just think that when Ego reigns, something suffers: and in my experience, the suffering party is most-often the end-client; not my client, but their's. I often tell my clients it's not even about you: it's about your client.

So, I am not there to just sell and make them feel good about their product or service. I am there to help them refine and tweak their product or service, and then develop and coordinate messages that convey the features and benefits of their product or service to their clients in a meaningful and timely way.

A wise person once said, 'first pride, then the fall - the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.'

Let's work to serve and protect our client's brands, not ourselves. i.e. 'less awards shows about making me feel better about me.'

Learn to sell your services otherwise....

Guest's picture

IMO award shows have become monsters. The stated aim of every award show is to raise the standard of advertising. Give awards to good ads - encourage more good ads. Sounds reasonable.

But instead they have become an end in themselves, and the overall standard of advertising actually suffers. We knock ourselves out to win awards, not to do good work. Screw trying to raise the difficult client's ads from a C to a B+. Just get it out of the way and work on this 'opportunity'. And a lot of solid, smart work that would have once been awarded is ignored - and hence may as well have been crap - because it can't compete in the rarified atmosphere created by scams.

It is easy to say ban scams, but the lines are so blurry it can't be done. I would suggest a radical approach. Ban or boycott all awards shows for 5 years and damn well let CDs and management decide for themselves whether work is any good or not.

Guest's picture

You are damn right. But nobody, or any agency, or any holding company will ever agree with your points here. This is just a part of the game and a way to recruit talent for other areas. The chance to wannabes starving artists to be treated like stars and have recognition in a field where they can master the game. Besides that if you think about the guys who bring effectiveness to their work and HAVE to adapt to strict guidelines and tough clients (the majority nowadays), are not judged by this aspect, otherwise they are considered as just someone that thinks in the box, and probably it's part of the dumbass marketing department of the client. And again it comes up when you're struggling to find a job, you're good as many prizes you could actually score in despite of your effectiveness achievements.

JamaisVu's picture
408 pencils

Ivan, I totally agree, I even posted a similar topic on the forums.
I think AOTW is more credible than Cannes. All the awarded ads on this site truly deserved it, but that's not the case with Cannes.
Cannes is heading to the pits. Sometimes they award a copycat of a previous winner.

bhatnaturally's picture
95 pencils

Excellent post. Well articulated. The points have been raised and discussed in bits and pieces but its all brought alive well here.

Guest's picture


as a small ethical agency trying to cut it we have some good work but it's almost impossible to have it showcased in awards. to enter one piece in the top shows in a couple of categories so it gets a chance is about $4000. if you have campaigns it's more. Then if you have 4 or 5 pieces it's 4 or 5 times that. very tough for a small shop. we're finding your site and similar a better way to get noticed as it's free and still respected. alas it doesn't get you the news headlines that taking home an award does.



Guest's picture

Perhaps to get around the high fees for entry and to assist smaller hot shops gain access to the awards, smaller agencies could be 'nominated' and if they receive a certain number of peer nominations the entry fee is waived for that agency.

Not sure if this has already been done but I'm not aware of it.

Guest's picture

Well said, Ivan! I attended last year's Cannes Ad Fest and I personally had a problem with a lot of the work that won. I totally subscribe to having a "trial jury" to judge creative work! Couldn't have said it better myself.

Guest's picture

There are too many other factors to put effectiveness in the equation. Like, does the product suck? Is it way overpriced? Are there too many equally-good competitors? Is the client just trying to maintain market share against new or surging competitors? "Did it sell?" is an excuse from non-creative agencies that are bitter they don't win. Yes, campaigns should have an impact, but you can't judge that all the time.

Bigger issues are stolen ideas and award shows awarding creative, yet familiar work.

Guest's picture

Well written and well said ...the awards are just self adulation . Creative people are in the end similar to artist. They crave attention, wider the audience the btter they feel. As the avg.consumers cares only about music & films award shows, the agencies make do with patting each other's back. As no one remembers or cares about the resukt and their impact , all kinds of creative work and scams have their share of spotlight.

Guest's picture


African_Matt's picture
48 pencils

I agree completely. A well written blog.

M Jacob's picture
M Jacob
17 pencils

I don't mind fake, ghost ads if they help improve creative standards. Perhaps award shows should create a new category for them. What I cannot stand are brain-dead turds who steal ideas and claim them as their own. They should be given door duty at award shows.

Guest's picture

Cannes Sucks! Like someone above has said, Cannes has awarded lots of lots of copycat works. Cannes is just bothered about making money.

The motive of Advertising Awards should be to increase the standards of Advertising, not what Cannes does right now.

Shame on Award Shows. Double shame on Cannes.

sonmailbox's picture
21 pencils

You are right, Ivan.
Cannes is like heaven in Vietnam, people talk about but they are not really know.
Like two faces, one good one bad.

DJVassallo's picture
243 pencils

Great insights Ivan.
Award shows are a business, and as a business they have evoluted and diversified in niches as well: Effies for effectiveness and ROI. Regional festivals like Clio, FIAP, to award regional dudes. Cannes is suppose to award the best Creativity worldwide, but it's even failing itself, this year's GP's left me the sensation of "Where's the big idea?"

There are lots of great pieces in the golds, silvers and bronzes, yes. But not all of them really deserved a "creativity award". Looking the current state of Cannes, nowadays is just an exclusive-expensive-to-get-in-club for mates patting each others.

Guest's picture

What's wrong with award shows? The same thing that's wrong with adsoftheworld: too much of it is spec work, or agency versions and directors' cuts.

It's bad enough that the shows award fake work. To make matters worse, consider how many creative directors appraise potential hires based on how much hardware they've taken home. Which just rewards participation in the whole charade in the first place.

Coming back from Cannes, Bob Garfield lamented that "famous work" wasn't being properly awarded (with the possible exception of Crispin's output).

Alexander Ovechkin didn't have to falsify his record to become a better candidate for the Hart trophy. Nor did Cliff Lee to clinch the Cy Young award.

They should set up an award show that honours work that ran, audit it thoroughly and form a judging panel of people who have nothing invested in the process (ie journalists, celebrities, etc). It'd be interesting to see what the outcome might be.

ivan's picture

I just want to clarify that AotW doesn't claim the ads displayed have run. It's not a requirement.

Guest's picture

Excuse me, but what's "right" about advertising award shows to begin with?

The Oscars award films that entertain the world... you don't see "fake scam films" made to win awards, do you?

Just what do the "award-winning" ads do for the consumers and clients? Make people really buy and clients sales improve? Please, WAKE UP, will you?

Just look at all the torch lights the world sells per year, the amount of sales from bicycle locks, the lego sets that target "kids" imaginations, the love of endangered animals, the battered housewives saved, etc... who are we kidding?? I wager not even agencies care enough to give to worthy causes outside of their own doors!!

The award books are such jokes! I can go through a whole annual and not be interested the least to even find out about ANY product, much less to buy them! And the size of those "art-directed" logos and copy... now what was that ad for again??

And I don't see "judges of these awards" being inspired year on year to buy tonnes of stuff after they've been "effectively" sold by thousands of ads the world over!

What a wank! All these sad advertising "professionals" want to do is get the BIG award so they can get big jobs and big paychecks!! And the BIG bosses pay!! Why? Besides the false sense of security... it's also because they themselves got to where they are today with SCAMS!

Can't even begin to imagine just what shame the awards truly are!

Bet the real ad legends like Bernbach, Ogilvy, Rubicam and the likes are tossing in their graves.

Stop calling these the advertising awards! Because that's probably the last thing they do. The "creative" showmanships these ad wankers do are just the "creative" acrobatics they are... so we should just call them the "Wanker Awards"!

And THAT's the truth... save the 1% of real ads that actually made it to win the consumers and clients. And if it's only the 1%... the rewards and returns from real clients and consumers should already make them proud!

Guest's picture

I hope there would be no scam or any unfair competition in this year's philippine ad congress.... :) nice blog! great points

bknowlden's picture
3647 pencils

ivan, great article, but the reality is that it's a necessary evil and i have every intention to win every award possible. not because i'm a self loathing asshole, but because awards = cash. i agree, it sucks, but it is what it is.

ivan's picture

I agree with you on that!

Guest's picture

Unfortunately there exist many advertisers who are influenced by the awards winning agencies over the one who are producing better ROI. Its like the adavertising manager who approves and congratulates an agency for a commercial but who comes back the next day after viewing it the evening before with his wife and then claims that it was not the message that he had requested.

Guest's picture

Awards = cash correct, but on the other hand awards cost cash. So are the awards only there for those that can afford it or those that need the recognition of their peers. I am sure there are loads of smaller agencies with much bigger ideas than most larger agencies and do a whole lot more for their clients and their money, but don't enter. Why don't the media owners submit work that has been published for awards. We've all been there burning the midnight oil to create an award winning piece of work, and then have it flighted at 3am, so it qualifies to be entered. Is this advertising – I though advertising was meant to build a brand, maybe the client should present their ads for the awards. Start a new award – Effective Advertising Awards, winning that would mean more cash from a prospective client.

But in the end all we want to do is create great advertising – and win awards occasionally.

Guest's picture

women are underrepresented and ads aimed at women are rarely rewarded. www.adwomen.org

Guest's picture

Nice blog, interesting points of view...
I'd just like to point out that, here in the UK, we have awards that celebrate the effectiveness of ads; it's called the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) Effectiveness Awards.
I think it would be a real shame if ad awards didn't exist. Although I acknowledge their shortcomings, there is little that can compare to having your work recognised and praised by your industry figureheads. Self-congratulatory? Yes! A better alternative? I don't know!
Whether the work that gets into the award annuals really ran or not, they are still a source of inspiration to students and professionals alike. So, let's stop whinging and knocking and just enjoy the creativity on display and celebrate it.

Guest's picture

I work for a large multinational challenger brand that many agencies would love to have on their client list. During pitches, the agencies who pushed their awards hard in their credentials rather than demonstrating the effectiveness of their campaigns simply didn't make the short list. Hopefully more clients will read posts like this so they can become a bit more savvy about the truth of these 'creative' awards, rather than being impressed by all the flashy statues in the agency's foyer.

Shanty Mathew's picture
Shanty Mathew
130 pencils

Can the 'Force of Opinion' on the blogophere compel Advertising award shows to reform?
Do we dare try?

AAA Copywriter's picture
AAA Copywriter
6 pencils

To me there in nothing wrong with award shows, as long as ads are actually made to support the products they are about and not, as the case is in Italy where i live, to inpress the ad shows juries.

A good looking ad doesn't necessarily is the most efficient one, and often doesn't "sells" the product right,, even if it wins a price.


AAA Copywriter

sirvan's picture
29870 pencils

Look. The challenge in our business is doing GREAT work for REAL clients that gets BIG results. And right now our award shows (save for the Effies, sortof) only address one out of those three things.

Scam work can be good and inspiring, sure. But the way the award shows are currently operating is ultimately BAD for our industry. Award shows make people's careers. And right now we have major agencies being "run" by people who's only claim to fame is doing FAKE work. They can't manage. They're terrible with clients. And, more importantly, they don't know how to take a less-than-perfect business situation (ie, 99% of clients) and get decent work out of it.

Take Saatchi under Granger, it was well known that he would literally COMB through student books, find ads that *could* work for existing clients (Tide, General Mills, etc), hire them for peanuts (to be fair to them, lol), tweak the idea for a particular client, and -get this- go to the client and say "if you let us produce this... with OUR money... run it in Sheboygan in the middle of the night... and you give it your tacit endorsement... we'll do WHATEVER YOU WANT for your "real" ads/campaign... PLUS, we'll take you to Cannes with us!"

Sure, it worked –for Tony and a few select members of his team– but those clients are back to doing the same old kind of work.

Now folks, THAT'S a problem!

And that's something that the "publication requirement" alone wouldn't fix.

Scam is a huge problem. It's essentially become a situation where you have to CHEAT to win in our industry. And that is absolutely reprehensible.

Guest's picture

Well done!

Guest's picture

Brilliant post, thank you. I would suggest the reason we see the same types of ads awarded is because the shows keep selecting the same judges. If someone wins awards, they're asked to judge. It's self-perpetuating.

Perhaps a more diverse group of judges (artists, marketing directors of companies that produce good advertising, a woman or two) would help.

We should also consider categorizing differently. Large clients vs. small. Actually ran vs. presented. Joy pop vs. tough subject. Acknowledge that people will enter scam advertising and make it a category but force the others to conform. There's a solution. We just need to be creative enough to find it.

Guest's picture

These are all very good points. Award shows are a business. I absolutely agree with the point about measuring whether a campaign generated results or not. The purpose of advertising is to generate sales. At the end of the day that's why clients are spending on ads, if it doesn't sell its not effective, no matter how clever or great the ad is. Also, scam is a huge problem because only the big agencies can afford to run those ads to make them seem legitimate campaigns so the smaller shops automatically get left out, and very often some of the best ideas come from the niche smaller agencies.

– Jyoti Dasgupta

Guest's picture




Other than the judges, whom else in the industry sees what was judged?
Set up a site, if not already, and take more of an "American Idol" approach if the judging is on creativity.
Afterall, the audience is what we are after to take in our creative and make a judgement on buying the client's product.
Then, take the best to the Show and judge.

The best awards I've received — A strong handshake form each client with a big grin. followed by more work.


Guest's picture

On my way to judge a show that was 120 miles away, my car broke down. For the 4th time that month. I was late, stranded and had no cell reception to get a tow. By the time I got to the judging site I was fit to be tied. I attempted to judge the work, but I was so distracted and pissed it was nearly impossible.

Every time I submit our agency's work to these shows, I remember that incident. Then wonder what madness each and every judge has undergone that particular day (or night before) before they set out to judge the work.

I try to be objective about shows, but basically think it's all an expensive load of crap.

sirvan's picture
29870 pencils

Also, agencies names should NOT be on work in award show judging !!!!

I've judged several shows, from big to small, and they've ALL had the agencies names on the work. I've never understood why. The work should speak for itself.

I remember a few years ago, when judging a show, there was a GREAT piece in the show by one of the bigger, perennially bad agencies... I think it was Grey or Y&R... and there was ALL this work from Crispin in the same category that, frankly, wasn't that good (and it wasn't a client that was*obviously* a Crispin Client either, like BK). So I voted up the good work, and down the bad work. Not a problem, right?. Well, when I was eating lunch w/ the other judges everyone was waxing on, and on, and on about how "great the Crispin work was" and I realized, sadly, that they were just like everyone else: StarFuckers.

And the point is that most of us wouldn't have automatically known which agency did what, if the names hadn't been on the work.

So it wasn't really a surprise when the book came out and it was filled w/ Crispin Crap, and the refreshing, and good work from the "bad" agency was nowhere to be seen.

ivan's picture

Well, bias is always there. It would be a good idea to judge work anonymously. But it would be bad for business. ;)

Guest's picture

You want to know the Women behind Cannes Lions 2009, Clio, FIAP, El Sol, ...? www.adwomen.org

Guest's picture

Just think, if the awards were done away with altogether, the real proof would be in the effectiveness of the piece, and therefore the value would be genuine. I know of no customer or client that cares how creative the art or the concept is if the effort doesn't produce results.

I would like to know which ads were most successful, with factual data to reinforce the method used.

Guest's picture

haha it reminds me of Yearly Brands Awards, I feel they are giving it to evryon, and u r very right, no one cares, I am a designer still i dont care

marcusrimmer's picture
12 pencils

The truth is nobody really cares about advertising award shows but only people in the industry itself. To make such shows more organic why not allow half the votes for the general public? The industry people can vote based on technicalities that the general public does not have knowledge, but the public should be able to vote for an ad they like to help it to win.

fifa 15 coins's picture
fifa 15 coins

My way or the highway.

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