D&AD Awards – time for a rethink?

18 Dec

Adspike is away from his desk for a few weeks and has time to ponder the way of the advertising world. And before this undisguised assault on our industry’s premier awards and education organisation begins,  Adspike would like to point out that he has in his possession a number of D&AD trophies. So, this is not written in a spirit of bitterness, more one of fairness.

I have noticed in recent years not only a move towards international agencies doing pretty well at D&AD, but the nature of the work has changed. This year, for example, awards were given to a project where SIM cards were used to store text books for children in the Philippines. There was an outdoor campaign where wrecked cars were put up on billboard sites in Argentina to encourage safer driving. BA (or some other airline) created some kind of a booth to help people with jet lag. Someone else created a faux ten year old to lure paedophiles. And so it goes on.

The real problem I have with all this, is that 99% of us, particularly here in the UK, where D&AD is based, do not get given the kind of briefs that win D&AD. In other words, at the moment a brief lands on our desk, we have lost to a team in Brazil who pitch an idea at a client who is either truly open minded or is dazzled by the promises made it by the agency. A client who hasn’t already tied up its fortunes to a media agency that has dictated banner ads, a microsite and a DRTV campaign in the middle of Jeremy Kyle.

99% of us are given briefs that involve ads on TV. Ads on billboards. Ads in newspapers. Ads on the internet, radio and cinema. Occasionally we get to do experiential and ambient ideas but often these are less spectacular than we hoped for. No one looks at the YouTube video of our crowd bombing, The FC Barcelona players only show up for five minutes and leave more disappointment than elation. The viral ad doesn’t, well, go viral.

The reason for this is not simply one of our own inability. I like to think that most of us, given the right conditions, can pull off something pretty spectacular. Much of it is down to low expectations from our clients. Often its seems that all we have to do is ‘fill space with stuff’ and all will be well. The agency gets paid, the client gets to show something at an annual meeting and the people at the top of their respective trees continue to enjoy Verbiers and Antigua. Put simply, if the client isn’t prepared to go the extra mile to create an event that will make the world sit up, the world will remain sitting down.

My gripe with D&AD is that it appears to have forgotten its roots. D&AD was built on the graft of UK agencies and now awards (almost exclusively) those from overseas. Agencies in the UK still churn out good old fashioned advertising. And by that I don’t mean the idea, I mean the places where these ideas sit. Creatives in the UK still need to knock out posters and TV ads for clients whose media schedules demand posters and TV ads. D&AD however seems to have moved on into the etherial spaces of conceptual thinking where (in the case of the Filipino SIM card) it’s unclear who is advertising what and for whom. Is D&AD about pushing barriers? Or just excellence – a job done brilliantly? I understand the power an idea needs to win a black pencil but could not a few more silvers be thrown to the masses whose daily briefs don’t involve persuading a truck company to use Jean Claude van Damme and Enya in a viral film rather than send some DM to their potential clients? As it is, I look at the big winners and feel confused rather than inspired.

In not honouring the humble workhorses of advertising – TV, posters, print, radio, DM and so on – and in opening up the contest to any agency in any nation working for any client who will pay them, we risk a future where no British creative can compete. So maybe it’s time for a more local awards show – the one D&AD used to be. Not one run by partizan magazines like Campaign but one that awards British ads on pure merit. That way, D&AD can continue to be an annual advertising Olympic Games and the local awards can keep us advertising journeymen both inspired and encouraged that what we do has value and importance.

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