As creative agencies submit the best of their work for the 2015 Loeries and lobby their ECDs to be on the company trip to the Cannes Lions Advertising Awards, I made a startling realisation: I’m not sure what the point is of winning awards, Justine Cullinan confesses.
When I look at the time and money creative agencies put into submitting, lobbying and attending awards it seems disproportionate with the benefits they can reap from them. To take this further, how many awards a campaign’s creativity can win is almost immaterial for brand managers and marketing custodians. While agencies put their latest crop of awards into credential documents, press releases and pitch presentations, those at the marketing coalface are chasing profitable revenue, loyalty, cost-saving measures and social media traction. This may also be why there is usually a tension between agencies and their clients and why some organisations, such as Woolworths, have taken their advertising creative in-house. It’s hard to align when your goals are so different.
Of course it’s nice to be commended and to receive an accolade of acknowledgement within the industry in which you work. But there must be more to winning an award than recognition and bare-faced boasting or even just the networking opportunity that an awards ceremony provides. The Loeries are the golf course of the advertising industry. Much business will be done in the bars and clubs of Durban this September.
On the other side of the marketing fence, the measurement criteria in business inevitably relate to three primary objectives encapsulated in one notable definition of marketing: to sell more to more people, more often, at a higher price. The average corporation or business start-up gains nothing by winning awards. But there is a thriving industry for awards, so why should business owners care about an award?
Firstly awards matter because they assess strategic and creative excellence and that is a competitive advantage. In an era where confidential strategy and product release plans can be scuppered by social media and where a smart CRM programme can provide you with insights beyond what marketing 30 years ago was capable of, a competitive advantage is essential.
Secondly there may not be a relevance for awards at the frontline of marketing but when that awkward series of meetings between marketing practitioners and their finance directors and accountants take place, it’s easier to defend the choice of an agency (and the amount they get paid) if you can state that they are ‘award-winning’. A golden statue can, it seems, cover a multitude of internal negotiation challenges.
The glaring missing link in this whole scenario is that advertising awards seldom link the actual results of a campaign to the creative work involved. There are several urban legends about agencies that have entered the unapproved cut of a TV advert into an award category because they felt it was a better creative execution of their work. This is usually at their own cost, which just adds to the balance sheet when it comes to the focus that agencies have on winning awards. Having said that, a great creative piece of work can drive a brand’s awareness and in turn its product or service sales. Excellent agency creative can achieve that marketing gold that now appears in agency briefs as ‘we want this campaign to go viral’. Good advertising does work, for everyone involved.
It may be a very soft issue, but awards in any industry builds team spirit. Any manager is aware of the power that appreciation and recognition has on a team. Even if it doesn’t reach beyond its recipients and their immediate circle of competition, it’s cool to be at the top. People strive for more if there is a platform where they can showcase their work. Creatives across the world go to Cannes because they want to see the best work which generates ideas and fuels their motivation to create great work with their own clients. And any marketer can be grateful for that. It’s possibly one of the reasons why agencies are usually more leanly run and motivated to win business than corporate citizens may be.