Welcome to the Digital Chip Shop

29 May


At what point do we all just give up? I used to read D&AD annuals. My tutor at Watford even suggested I traced over the winning print and posters displayed in its pages just to feel, vicariously, what it must have been like to create something epic. Back in those halcyon days, D&AD rewarded advertising. It inspired advertising. Careers were made by being included in the hallowed pages of a D&AD annual. And most of the time, the ads that won had been seen by the public, in magazines, on billboards, on TV, on the radio.

Fast forward to D&AD 2015 and, hand on heart, I’m genuinely struggling to find anything that I am jealous of, or anything that inspires me. In fact, I’m struggling to find things that I recognise as advertising. And before I go on, I appreciate that D&AD  has changed. I appreciate that it is now international. I appreciate that it now more fully embraces design. But ultimately, as a creative working in the advertising industry, I still need to be inspired.

I should also state that I am not bitter, D&AD has been generous to me on a number of occasions. My concern is that, in branching out from traditional advertising, D&AD has lost its way. Studies have proven that around 90 per cent of people in developed nations still watch TV. Not just half an hour a day, several hours. They read magazines and newspapers and drive past billboards. They use the internet largely for information, research and communication. Yet a vast number of pencil winning work exists in a digital space where there are no meaningful measurements to tell us who exactly saw the work and how their perceptions of the brand changed as a result.

One winning entry mentions 21,000 people engaged on Facebook at the same time. 21,000? Stick them in a football stadium and you realise how few people were reached, compared to, say, a TV ad in prime time with a reach of several millions. Others seem little more than business innovations. Kids wanting to learn English speak to lonely English-speaking pensioners. A supermarket decides to sell ugly fruit. Great ideas. Good business. But is it advertising? And is it advertising that deserves the ultimate accolade of a pencil? Of the 49 yellow and black pencil winners, 5 are TV ads or idents, 6 can be described as press poster or DM and 2 radio. So what are all the rest? What world do these ideas inhabit, whose lives have been changed as a result? How has the game moved on?

Before I go on, I do have a few favourites. The ‘Like a Girl’ is awesome, despite the terrible branding. I remember #likeagirl far more than I do Always. The Geico stuff is really funny and properly exploits the pre-roll medium. The Aussie road safety stuff is great, but it’s an emotive subject to start with. I love charity posters that can be swiped with a card to donate, Lurpak gives me hope and I like the rainbow Burger King wrapper, though changing the name of the restaurant to Burger Queen might have been even ballsier.

As for everything else, when a footballer adds a few tattooed names to the already busy canvas of his skin for a cause, does the world sit up? When fans of a computer game can create their own avatars, does anyone who is not already a fan care? When a charity broadcasts information on a railway station arrivals board for an hour, does anyone who wasn’t there feel compelled to get involved?

It feels like we’ve entered a world best described as ‘Digital Chip Shop’ where anyone can create any stunt, movement or app that only those closely involved are ever aware of. It’s certainly creative, but the internet is a deep and very black hole. Most of us don’t have time to search its furthest recesses. It is populated by memes which last a day then vanish into the vortex. None of us have enough time to follow through on any of it and so little of it lasts. I’m unsure whether it is we as advertisers who are pushing our clients to allow us to create off-piste ideas for them, or whether the clients, conscious of dwindling budgets believe that ‘doing something on the internet’ is better use of their spend.

Which brings me back to why I feel like giving up. The bit of advertising that I do, the grunt work that shifts vast amounts of cider, and kitchen cleaner, and cars and clothing has, as far as D&AD results show, had its day. Ads that appear on TV,  bus shelters and in magazines are yesterday’s story. Yet, if we believe the statistics, they are still the most effective way of connecting with an audience. And so while the rest of us produce work that speaks to millions, D&AD continues to reward work that speaks to those people who were in the room, and whoever picked up the ‘what we did’ video on Youtube that one of their friends tweeted.

I still believe that advertising can change perceptions and change behaviour, and so I’m going to plough on. But yet again D&AD leaves me broken hearted by awarding pencils to work that I feel is at best a cul de sac, at worst a wrong turn and which, although I can do it, I can never believe in.

And finally, as a test, try and remember five things that won yellow or black pencils last year? No, me either.

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