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Creativity Advertising & Media

Ad awards and worthy winners: Does our industry lack the courage to champion commercial creativity?

By Jeremy Lee, columnist

October 13, 2015 | 4 min read

For those few traditionalists who still don a dinner suit for an awards ceremony, it’s time to dig out the itchy nylon flares. For everyone else, it’s the season to get out the best frocks or scratch off the dried soup from their dark tie from the last time they attended an advertising industry awards event.

D&AD's White Pencil

Autumn is the season where the industry likes to wallow in a warm bath of sozzled reflection on the triumphs of the year to date. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Except that these triumphs have become increasingly narrow in recent years where awards juries are predisposed towards championing the “feel good” campaigns from the third sector rather than those that answer a specific brief or – heaven forefend – are about commercial creativity and shifting product. A glance at some of the shortlists for this year’s season of shindigs suggests that this trend continues.

It’s quite right that charity clients are honoured and celebrated – after all agencies often have to work with limited budgets (and often no budgets at all) in a highly competitive sector to achieve crucial societal good.

Equally, charities have proved to be creatively rich seams from which agencies can demonstrate the best of their craft – Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s Barnado’s and St John Ambulance work and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe’s Royal British Legion campaigns represent a few of the recent best of the genre.

Moreover, they also neatly demonstrate IPA president Tom Knox’s agenda of promoting advertising to the wider world as a “force for good” – one that the Advertising Association has also thrown its full weight behind. It would be a particularly mean-spirited person indeed who did not think that this was worth the industry shouting about. It’s why there are so many awards such as the D&AD White Pencil and the Cannes Grand Prix for Good, to acknowledge this.

And yet, and yet. If as an industry we appear to only be interested in creating stunts for worthy causes that we truly ‘believe in’, then there’s the danger we won’t be taken seriously.

Perfectly legitimate advertisers that operate in unpopular or controversial areas – such as oil – could have some of the most innovative and creative advertising work created for them, but they are unlikely to trouble any awards stage because of this. J Walter Thompson London has created numerous examples of great work for Shell but these are unlikely to ever receive the creative accolades they deserve because of the sector it’s in.

And if we insist on implicitly imposing a moral code – our own moral relativism – on what is worthy in the advertising industry, where will at all end?

Does that mean that Facebook, with its sophisticated accountancy system that ensured that it paid less UK tax last year than a nurse, should also be exempt from any kind of critical appraisal? (On this count you’d probably find me in agreement.)

Knox’s decision to launch The President’s Prize, which rewards commercial campaigns that demonstrate added societal as well as economic value, as part of the IPA’s awards, is a start but it’s a shame that the industry seems to lack the courage – for however laudable reasons – to champion commercial creativity.

I predict that charity winners will continue to dominate this year’s awards season. However the industry is in danger of looking self-absorbed.
If we want to be considered a vital part of business we need to focus on the big picture, not the trinkets.
 We need to shape opinion and, perish the thought, sell goods – as well as do good.

Follow Jeremy Lee on Twitter @jezzalee

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