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  • Writer's pictureGladwyn Lewis

Advertising Awards are stupid, but they are also necessary...

Updated: May 19, 2023

D&AD Awards - The Pencils
D&AD Awards - The Pencils

Sometimes we are forced to wonder, are agency advertising awards a vanity metric, or is it actually something that showcases quality, creativity and ingenuity? Why are agencies all over so hyped up about them? Are they a legit standard for an agency to showcase that they are a cut above the rest? Or are they just nonsense?

So it's the time of the Cannes. The Lions being one of the world's most prestigious awards known to the advertising industry. Back in the day those awards meant something, it meant being recognised by your 'peers' for work that was a cut above the rest. And every creative, loves the little bit of recognition that comes with good work. For talent it is a way to get recognised and quickly get a raise, a much coveted promotion, or a new offer. For an incumbent agency, it is free PR, easy recognition, and the ability to get new and quite possibly lucrative clients.

But here is the million dollar question, has that work actually 'benefited' the clients? Has it lead to an increase in sales, revenue, or is it just creative work for the sake of being creative? Many award-winning creative solutions have absolutely no effect on sales, as the haters love to remind us every year during award season. The very worst examples of this are the fake ads made by unscrupulous creatives, usually from the large advertising agencies who just want to win an award to soothe their fragile egos. Most award shows have tried to squash this by making new rules, but the award-addicts will always find ways to get around the rules. This is infuriating, and so unfair on so many levels. Let me explain.

Getting your 'award' winning work listed for an award requires fees, both in listing it for the respective awards, as well as doing the sample creatives for the award that convinces the jury that the work is worth a mention. For smaller agencies like ourselves, this is prohibitive, we cannot list all our work for an award, plus we don't have the time nor bandwidth to recruit the right talent who could make the work more jazzy than it actually is. A bigger agency has a team just for these awards, they do everything from drafting the creative, the pitch brief, results, etc, and they definitely hedge their bets by enlisting numerous pieces of work for these awards shows. Some of them even do free work for clients, just so they could win an award, and these clients generally do agree to do so. After all, its good work for free, kind of difficult to say no to that...

Awards were meant for recognizing excellence in the field, and to the layman, an award is something you give someone when they’ve done a good job. But the reality is different, an award show is a business, and a business needs revenue to succeed. You have some legendary ones like the Cannes Lion, Rebrand, D&AD, or the Kyoorius awards. Creative awards events are great for building your professional network; everyone who has the potential to win an award is present and they are usually the best-of-the-best in your industry. Wine and alcohol flows freely, adding to the jovial, post-reward mood while creating a great space to press the flesh with genuine talent. It's a wonderful recruiting space too.

But it serves a mention that awards are not the goal, their an inspirational tool. Great work should always be the goal. But by hacking our fragile human egos, we trick ourselves into elevating substandard work to a higher place than it deserves. But for the few independent agencies that continue to churn out good work, and win awards, the result is quite surprising. Novel work for them, spurs them into action and enables them to move people to act. This inspiring action is very motivational, which is why for me personally the Cannes Lions holds no value, but the D&AD Pencil has always represented the best in advertising and design. Let's hope these new regional awards that are popping up from the woodworks maintain that same level of creativity, and perhaps Cannes Lion will just have to change their ways... eventually ...

Although it’s entertaining to poke fun at the concept of awards, there is a reason they exist in the first place. Their purpose is to recognize the top work in the industry. Unlike the movie industry, this may be the only public way to acknowledge the terrific talent and people behind some of the brilliant work we see in our everyday lives.

For smaller, independent agencies with less share of voice in the marketplace, it’s a way to proudly promote their innovative work and get noticed by prospecting brand advertisers. More practically speaking, it’s a way for the industry to spot new talent and for agencies to build a portfolio, get recognized by industry peers, reward teams and individual contributors, and build or accelerate careers—and come together to celebrate noteworthy achievements. But let's remember that, awards are not about vanity or bragging rights. It's about celebrating your people and their achievements. So let's not need an award to continue to celebrate our people ...

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