Inside the Chip Shop Awards US judging room: can advertising’s creative soul be saved?

The Chip Shop Awards US judging panel in action

Advertising has always had the soul of creativity at its core. Some of the most renowned and beloved ads have stayed with us for years and even decades and they direct how we think about not only the brands they are associated with, but also how we think about advertising in general, from Coca-Cola and Apple to Nike, Budweiser and milk.

But there is a sense that advertising creativity is in crisis, lost to bad briefs, clients who value analytics over creativity and a fracturing of media that demands speed over creativity. The Drum has championed creativity with its Chip Shop Awards for years, but this year it brought the conversation – and the awards – to the US for the first time, convening a focus group in the form of The Chip Shop Awards US jury to gain some insights.

The jury, made up of creative directors, executive creative directors, chief creative officers and other industry creatives, had a lively round table discussion on what creativity means to the industry, to the process and to the future of creative advertising, and if events like The Chip Shop Awards – which highlight creativity without boundaries – can help ‘save creative soul' then the industry might be better for it.

On companies and brands understanding creative

“This is a drastic and dramatic issue,” said one respondent. “I am from a region where there are tons of mid-level startups who need help with their advertising. They send briefs where they say that they want to disrupt, break the mold, do something unique, stand out and so on. But when we pitch these clients they do not have the acumen or the background to understand what that is in practice.”

The compliant continued that businesspeople are in performance marketing, and though they might think they know what they are talking about, they have no clue of how to look at an actual idea and say it matches the brief, it is going to deliver on the brief and know the difference between performance marketing and brand building.

The solution, according to this juror, is the “need to educate the market in the US, specifically those marketers who are dropping into these roles but do not have any background in creativity at all. This is an area that needs help.”

One creative argued it is already affecting the quality of the work. “I even think the stuff coming through in mainstream awards here in the US is not even that good. I don’t want to sound like an old person but back in the day people would take more risk and produce better work as a result.”

This judge thought that it might be the case that previously, those in charge tended be in the job for longer, but now they are just looking for a six-month return, maybe in the form of a bump caused by a media buy or a trending post on Instagram. “They are not looking for an agency to actually build a brand over years.”

Frustrations on this front were evident across the group, and also front-of-mind in terms of one of the jurors.

“I just literally told a client services person that I do not want feedback from a particular client as I did not want my team to hear it - I do not want feedback from an uneducated person as to why they do like it, it is just demoralizing and counter-productive.”

Being brave breaks through

Of course, it is unfair to tar all brands with the same brush. There are some in the market who are not only brilliant, but brave as well. And the group agreed the brave element is fundamental for anybody hoping to take break through.

One respondent said: “Brands are now being forced to take a stand when it comes to social purpose, and that requires bravery. We’ve all seen Nike Dream Crazy or Ikea, who developed furniture for disabled people. These strategies took bravery – this is a celebration not only of creativity but creative bravery.”

Nike was cited as a great example of a brand that knows its target audience and aims to align its values with them, even if it means alienating others in the market. “It allows them to be true to themselves, and it is great how they are solving business problems through creativity,” said one juror.

Data should be a creative’s friend

Data is vital to today’s campaigns, but some think that it isn’t being used the right way, especially as it relates to the creative process.

One respondent stated: “Marketers are always looking for a way to guarantee to keep their campaign is safe and successful. And at the moment data is used as a way of justifying decisions, when actually it should be used to offer insights from which you can build.”

Added another creative: “Brands should inverse the introduction of data into the process. At the moment many use it at the end of the creative process. It should really come into play at the start. Used properly, it can be used to create much braver work, as it can provide the creative with the tools to prove why that approach will be effective.”

The group agreed that data is not the enemy, but the way it is used, and when done in conjunction with creatives, informing them with consumer insight, that can create stronger creative.

Being trapped inside a self-affirming bubble

With algorithms geared so we see items in our search that confirm what we already know, there is concern that creatives – along with most of society – are getting trapped in self-affirming bubbles.

Said one judge: “It is harder to be inspired because we are now able to curate the world around us - I am being served very pertinent ads, but now it is harder to see beyond my bubble as a result.”

That cord-cutting person stated that, as a child, they could turn on the TV and see ads they had never seen before, which opened their eyes to new products and new creative.

The group agreed that creatives should spend less time online and more time in the real world where they can immerse themselves in real as opposed to virtual culture.

That extended to the next generation of creatives, who may have been raised on digital but taught by teachers utilizing older methods.

“Many kids graduating today tend to jump on Instagram and they steal design and steal type. They are much more comfortable being part of the mainstream, where our job should be to surprise and confound expectation.”

Chip Shop Awards to the rescue?

If surprise and bewilderment of the norm is how creatives should operate, then how do we get creatives to continually think outside the box, especially when that box is defined by people who are not trained in the creative arts?

Can The Chip Shop Awards US, an event that aims to provide a platform for work that challenges convention, have a role in helping to address some of these issues? Given the fact that the Chip Shop jury was discussing, it is not surprising they strongly agreed it could.

Said one juror: “The most exciting part is the fact no rules apply, apart from the idea being amazing. I often see things that are brilliant but then realize, once you take into consideration the 200 the bullet points in the brief or the corporate restrictions that encumber a client, they will never see the light of day. So, it will be great to get some of these ideas out there, and maybe inspire the market as a whole.”

Another judge agreed: “My agency has 30 creative and we ask them to work across so many things, like TV, digital and so on that sometimes they do not have time to think about the core creative idea. So, we actually ask them to do parody ads as an instrument to keep fresh and motivated. It is great we will be able to showcase these sorts of ideas in an award scheme.”

As well as fresh ideas, The Chip Shop Awards is also about giving fresh talent a platform – and fresh does not necessarily mean young.

One judge stated that he has a friend in Alabama who has won tons of awards in his day and worked on famous campaigns, but has been writing a lot on LinkedIn about being a victim of ageism in the business.

“Although he is older, his creativity has not gone away, be he feels he is being marginalized for being old. I told him I was doing this and he said it was a great idea, as it gave people like him a new outlet, to remind the world what they are capable of.”

The Chip Shop Awards is not just about young creatives - it is for any creative who does not have access to clients or the agency to allow them to do the work to win awards. That is not simply an age issue. It is about diversity in its widest context.

The judge stated that the real way the Chip Shop Awards can get traction in the US is to embrace creativity and give groups who are marginalized an opportunity try to create great work.

The jury agreed that the first year of The Chip Shop Awards US was a start – a beginning of a conversation in the US regarding what makes great creative. That conversation will hopefully lead to creatives young and seasoned thinking about how to constantly keep things fresh and creative unleashed. The group hopes that interest in the awards and great creativity will grow in the years to come.

See all the winners of The Chip Shop Awards US here.

The Chip Shop Awards will be back in 2020, register your interest here.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.