News & Views

When award adulation and social conscience collide

Oh dear, oh dear. In the last issue of this magazine it seems the fearless editor has put the cat among the pigeons by plonking his finger onto the hot button issue of awards yet again. If the work mentioned in that article is indeed a carbon copy of work previously done elsewhere then perhaps the crime is doubly shameful because the work was for a charitable cause.

Advertising awards linked with advertising for a social cause has been a contentious issue for a very long time now. In the 1980’s Abbott Mead Vickers struck gold with an RSPCA ad featuring a small mountain of dog carcasses with the headline ‘When the Government killed the dog licence they left us to kill the dogs’, after which an irate group of creatives got together to run an ad featuring a hand holding a dead dog by the tail with the headline ‘Here’s a dead dog. Where’s my award?’ Wow, passions sure run high when it comes to this sort of stuff.

It is true that it has long been considered easier to win an award for an ad designed to prevent child labour than for an ad for a used car dealer. And now I have a confession to make. I was once in an agency where someone suggested we find a charitable cause to work on because “it is easier to win awards doing that kind of thing.” Nothing could put anyone off doing advertising for a charitable cause more than hearing those words, which is a great shame. That was a long time ago now, but since then every time I see an ad for a charitable cause I remember those words and an uncomfortable shiver goes down my spine.

Another challenging remark in the aforementioned article was that “mediocre work won across the board” followed by disbelief and the plaintive cry “Why?” I wrote an article recently which quoted Ed McCabe expressing the view that “advertising is an industry where the standards are set by people who have yet to develop any”, and who knows, he may have been onto something.

So every year the MENA Cristals come around and we will no doubt keep experiencing the same groundhog day of contention, disagreement and disappointment. Maybe the emphasis is wrong. Maybe the Effie Awards with their focus on effectiveness should be the only awards with indisputable credibility. Maybe awards are simply overvalued. If we allow awards to be the sole measurement of achievement then we are teaching the younger generation nothing other than to indulge their own egos. There is nothing wrong with winning advertising awards for any product or charitable cause so long as the motives are honourable – but surely there is something wrong when we make awards our obsession and sole objective. It’s a thorny issue.

Frankly I’d rather be fishing on the banks of Lake Taupo.

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