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Awards, plagiarism and scam work: how can the creative industry get back to first place?

We appear to have a problem with awards. This is nothing new, of course, and is hardly limited to the advertising industry, but a series of events, articles and high-profile discussions in the last month alone has thrust this issue into the limelight.

As Malcolm Poynton, global chief creative officer at Cheil Worldwide, puts it: “Awards. They’re like Marmite. You either love them or hate ‘em. It’s a binary thing (well, it would be in this digital age, wouldn’t it?)”

But it’s one thing to be a hater who still enters them anyway, finally celebrating the win with as much gusto (and Rosé) as the lovers, and another to make a stand. This is what Amir Kassaei, CCO of DDB Worldwide, has done when he spoke out against awards, claiming the agency will pull back from entering this year. It’s been met with serious responses from the likes of D&AD and Cannes Lions and much discussion in the creative community.

This month also saw Dentsu Utama withdrawing from the 4As after a scandal that saw the agency's recent awards wins disqualified for reportedly copying artists work and passing it off as client work (pictured above). It’s dredged up a longstanding discussion in the Asian creative industry, a region that is unusually regularly rocked with issues of ad scamming and plagiarism.

We spoke to creatives from around the globe to see what should be done, whether awards should be avoided and whether scamming is specific to certain regions or agencies.

Malcolm Poynton, global chief creative officer, Cheil Worldwide

Naturally, these accolades act as an endorsement. An endorsement that can propel the recipients' pursuit further, help them attain greater financial success and yes, simply make them feel good too. And in every single one of these fields, there are the equivalent of ‘scam’. Some of the ‘scam’ ends up winning trophies too.

One of my favourite cars, the 021c Ford by Marc Jacobs, scam.

Blair Witch Project, scam.

America’s women’s Olympic gymnastics team gold in ‘96, scam.

Ben Johnson’s 100m record, scam.

Marion Jones’ medals, scam.

Match fixing in cricket and football, scam, scam and more scam.

All Tour de France winners, ever. Scam.

Whatever next, tennis?

My point is this, the publicly acknowledged ‘top of the heap’ in any field inspires whatever comes next. At the same time, in almost every case it's also good for business. Good for business? Yes. As if common sense weren’t enough to figure this one out, we have increasing amounts of empirical evidence showing that being more creative in how we connect a brand with consumers helps a business be more successful. And isn’t that the point of our industry? To create some magic around a client’s brand that the product alone cannot and in turn create value for the client through desirability, demand, votes, loyalty, sales or any number of other positive outcomes.

Needless to say, where's there’s money and public acclaim involved, we should not be surprised that the competitive nature of some folk trips over itself. Unfortunately, we cannot count everyone in our industry to play with authenticity and utter respect for the ‘rules' however, that says more about the person or agency than the industry. For the most part, we know the creative leaders and agencies that have the Lance Armstrong “win at all costs” approach. And yes, I dare say award juries could do more to investigate if an agency and client has really achieved what they say in their entry, if the supposed client is even a client at all or if the agency has simply rebranded an existing product as their own but that will demand more time to judge and more experienced and informed jurors too.

What won’t change is the purpose of our industry - to grow our clients’ business. Coincidentally, it’s repeatedly been proven that most awarded work tends to do exactly that.

Ali Shabaz, chief creative officer, Grey Group Southeast Asia

The debate makes a good point about awards and the impact it has on clients. It is not a new debate raging either and it’s not going to go away very soon. The person who runs the creative department ultimately wants street cred for the agency or network, which is how you attract the best talent and that’s the biggest game. Attracting talent is the real hard proof that your agency is doing well and that’s the case all over the world.

You see more and more work worthy of awards but the work done for causes and NGOs etc is undermining ability to hire the best talent in many ways.

Awards are a good thing in any industry but we need to win it for all the right reasons. For Grey our mantra is making ‘famously effective work’.

Andy Greenaway, executive creative officer, SapientNitro APAC

There’s a lot of debate around scam and its prevalence in Asia. Many accuse Asia of being the main culprit. But it’s a worldwide phenomena. And some regions are simply better at disguising their malpractice than others.

We all know why it exists. There’s a hunger among creative teams to do great work. And agencies want to win awards. But quite often, there’s a lack of desire among clients to buy it. As such, scam rears its head to fill the void.

But instead of looking at ways to curb the scam phenomena, perhaps we need to flip the whole thing on its head and look at ways to unleash a truly creative culture among clients and agencies.

First, there’s a talent issue. We need more fearless and courageous agency CEOs. We need more adventurous and risk taking clients. We need more amazing storytellers from more diverse backgrounds. We need more artists with a radical view of the world.

Second, there’s culture. We need agencies that have a purpose beyond achieving the quarterly profit target. We need a renewed belief that true creativity can have an impact on our world, on our clients and on ourselves.

And third, there’s remuneration. We need agencies to pay people what they’re worth. We need clients to pay a fair rate to their agencies so they can hire the best people, rather put them through procurement hell and complain when the kids on their business can’t solve the problem at hand.

I know, I know. I can hear you saying it. That ain’t gonna happen Andy.

You might be right. In which case, don’t give scam such a hard time. It’s there for a reason.

Ian Haworth, executive creative director, Wunderman

Amir has outed the elephant in the room. I agree with him that awarding fake work is in danger of compromising awards schemes as a whole. Creative directors have been concerned about phoney awards for years now, so it’s heartening to see a growing movement against them. We’re all sick of fake work compromising our efforts to create meaningful, commercially-successful and innovative campaigns. The increasing pressure to win has created an arms race resulting in the work that is contrived to pick up the awards often getting the recognition, rather than the work that deserves it.

We need to award proper, real work that demonstrates actual client benefit, rather than stuff that operates at the fringes, or wasn’t agency-originated, or worst of all, didn’t even run. We should applaud Amir’s call to arms because it will lead to a push for awards for real work for clients. This will be healthier for the industry and will demonstrate the impact we have on our clients’ businesses.

It will also will force the industry to be more innovative with paying clients, which is, of course, what we should be doing in the first place.

If you want to legitimately win an award for a knock off ad, check out The Drum's Chip Shop Awards, the creative awards with no rules.