What can Children teach us about advertising awards?

Let me make thing clear at the outset, I love awards. I have absolutely nothing against awards. I do have issues with awards that are neither transparent nor authentic. Both represents a form of public swindling that borders what can be called as cheating. This is something that children don’t do. They fight hard, and fight above board.

Advertising awards are supposed to do three things. One, it is supposed to enhance the prestige of the brand. Two, it is supposed to showcase the ability of the agency. Three, crafting path breaking ads becomes a way of life for brands that win. They are doing exact opposite. The awards are dominated by money power, more entries more awards and they are dominated by ‘created for awards’ ads.

There is a simple piece of statistics that we all need to look at. In 2009 at Goa Fest over 200 awards were given out. Of this about 70 were won by brands that were less than 5% of market share in their category. In 2010, of the 214 awards given out, 66 were won by brands that were less than 5% of their category. Now here are some interesting facts. There is no overlap between these brands in 2009 and 2010. Which means brands that won in 2009 did not win in 2010. None of these 120 brands that won crossed the 5% mark. They remained fringe brands that the tracking agencies find hard to track.

Even more startling is the fact that 85% awards are won by just 4 agencies, year on year. This is because 85% of entries come from these agencies. Somehow it is not celebration of best of best, it is a celebration of who entered more to win more.

We need to consider this with some interest. Creating award winning campaigns did not push the brand to greater success. Creating path breaking ads did not become mainstream culture for these brands. The creation of winning campaign thus only helped the agencies that created it. It would seem that there are many big brands that won awards, and did very well in market place. These are largely true, but were the ads part of mainstream campaigns is debatable.

Today there are major issues with award functions. May be there is very little right with advertising awards. The judging of shows has been compromised systemically year on year. Genuine ads often don’t make it, created specially win it.  Because they are created for awards, efficacy is never in consideration. It seems advertising award shows have become bigger business than celebrating advertising.

We as an industry are faced with key questions. Is there a way of improving? Can we improve the award shows, or completely reform them?

To find the answers I looked at school children. The joys of winning awards are hard wired into us from school. They remain the best template for being evaluated and being declared a winner. The system is simple, transparent and proven. More importantly they are egalitarian, they promote participation, and  the whole school believes in them. It suffers from none of the issues that are facing advertising awards today.

Here are a set of reforms that our award shows need to undergo, and the lessons are drawn from school children

First, be open to evaluation from a completely independent jury. The school awards are not judged by classmates. Winning an award in school does not mean hankering for extra marks in math exam. As an industry if we want to be rewarded for differentiated thinking, it should be from a panel of judges that we respect and value. Get the critiques, filmmakers, musicians, even clients into the jury

Second, we need to be genuine about ourselves and our work. The school children do not get their outside school friends to come and play in school team. Nor do they resort to lies or tricks to earn extra points. They are open, honest and transparent. We as an industry are caught in the circle of lies. We keep telling lies and only we believe they are the truth.  Schools don’t have what is called as process breach.

Third, the schools make it clear how the system of evaluation would work. How much of objectivity and how much of creativity matters are made clear from start. They stick to time lines and rules. Advertising awards and participating entrants need to play by rules.

If we have to award created for award ads, then let’s keep them free of brands, let’s celebrate the craft, independent of brands. The specially created ads any way don’t matter, at least we would be serious about what we award.

These are not radical suggestions. These are easily implementable. Yet somehow I think it won’t happen. We as communication professionals are change agents. We make consumers to change established behavioral patterns. Yet we are the most rigid and inflexible people.

I do hope, we can learn from our kids.

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