Sep 09

Ethics enters the award shows

Is that a real ad, or are you just trying to win an award?

Sir. Is that, or is that not, a real commercial?

I stopped being obsessed with advertising award shows a number of years ago. (It coincides suspiciously with the time I stopped winning.) Some, however, will stop at nothing to win — even if it means entering ads for fictitious clients, or running a spot once in Sioux City in the dead of night just to qualify for entering. Award shows have always frowned on these types of things, but entry fees can be addictive.

Now, thanks to the creative aspirations of a few, the whole thing has blown up in the industry’s face. The boys from DDB Brazil tried to win some honors with a fake ad for a real client. With a unique combination of insensitivity and bad taste, they used the horror of 9/11 to score points for the World Wildlife Foundation. Never mind that the client was apparently unaware.

Fortunately, the way the world works, bad things are often the catalyst for good things. With all the attention on this fake ad, the award shows are mulling over their own responsibilities, in some cases taking action. The One Show has just announced a policy that will not only disqualify fake ads, it will prevent the agency and the creative team from entering the One Show for five hears hence. The D&AD show in London has just added new restrictions to their entry rules, though they stop short of “suspension.” (Why jeopardize the cash flow?) What about the rest of them? Clios? Cannes Lions? The Lions in particular pull in zillions of dollars in entry fees every year, globally, so it will be interesting to see how tough they get.

Arthur Einstein, one of my earliest bosses, used to say “It ain’t creative unless it runs.” Unless you’re content to just admire your ad on the wall, you’ll need to do a little more work. Like guide it through a maze of creative directors, planners, account people and clients. If you can do it all — create, defend and convince — you really do deserve an award.

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  • About time! We are an industry that loves to pat ourselves on the back. Maybe there is an opportunity to run an award show for work that didn’t run!

  • Josh Sklar

    Apart from a client request last year, I haven’t entered a show in many years now because I’m dismayed at who some of the jurors are and how they’re evaluating. Certainly a lot of them don’t read the brief, don’t consider who the targets are, and are often not even capable of understanding the challenges that were faced to bring forth the resulting creative (especially in digital).

    When coupled with scam ads in the mix: blah. It really does come down to people buying awards for credibility and marketing potential.

    And I’m speaking as a guy who somehow managed to win quite a bit of the time (including the thing last year). I’m a juror in at least two shows a year to try and help do the right thing, but I doubt that happens much. :-)

    And then there’s Neil French who said in a BBC interview at the Spike Awards in Singapore last night:

    “Neil French has often been a lone voice in defending scam ads being entered into major creative competitions. Asked what he thought about scam ads and if he had a problem deceiving the consumer, French replied: ‘None whatsoever. I’m in advertising, that’s what we do.’

    He continued: ‘I don’t mind kids trying hard and cheating and lying to get to the top.’”

  • The thought of the people who run and profit from award shows being ethical leaders in our industry really shows how bad things are.

    Ken, please find us some better “truthers”.

  • ken segall


    I agree! I hadn’t seen that Neil French business. He should win some awards for the controversy he thinks is so cool to kick up. He’s sort of the Ann Coulter of advertising.

    Good point. Maybe the agencies should be imposing their own controls over this stuff. But then — we’d be looking to agencies to become the ethical leaders. It’s a no-win situation!

  • Did I say that? Really? Very pragmatic of me :)