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November 2, 2007 / davebirss

Awards OR effectiveness? Take your pick.

D&AD flag

A couple of days ago I posted a link to my blog on a Facebook group for people in the communications industry. My stats have shown that a few folk have clicked on the link – and I’d like to give you a special welcome if you’re one of them. Even better, one Facebooker has decided to respond by sending me a Facebook message. He clearly doesn’t think what I’m doing is worthwhile which – because of my inherent bastard attitude – makes me even more enthusiastic! I felt that our discussion was wasted as a private conversation, so I’d like to move it onto the blog so that everyone can join in!

In his most recent response to our conversation, my debating partner (who can reveal himself in the comments, should he wish to do so) says that when he was working at O&M “we never bothered about winning awards. Our concern was for the client.” He then illustrated this with a quote from the Ogilvy guru, Steve Hayden:

If you want to be a well paid copywriter, please your client.
If you want to be an award winning copywriter, please yourself.
If you want to be a great copywriter, please your reader.

Firstly, I think we should overlook the initial flaw where he says that O&M were all about pleasing clients – therefore, according to Mr Hayden, being well paid rather than great. I’ve worked for the Ogilvy machine myself in the past and I know that not to be true. I never felt well paid when I was there!

What concerns me more is the attitude that creative work is done EITHER for awards OR effectiveness. I’ll be the first to admit that some of the creative work in annuals is done to wow the industry rather than persuade punters – but this sweeping generalisation is simply destructive.

Going back to Steve Hayden’s quote, he says that “If you want to be a great copywriter, please your reader.” That’s exactly right. As an industry we have a moral responsibility not to add to the cerebral pollution that litters our billboards, airwaves and computer screens. We should be trying our best to do something rewarding for our audience. Something good. And that’s what awards are supposed to recognize.

As a fully paid-up member of the D&AD, I believe in awarding creativity. It is this striving for better that moves the industry forward and makes the suburban wallpaper of marketing messages slightly more pleasant for the public. Plus good creative ideas ARE effective. D&AD’s Creativity Works site is full of case studies to prove it.

I’m not ashamed to say that I believe in creativity. I want to constantly improve what I do. I want to help others do likewise. And I think this attitude is the best thing for agencies, clients and the public alike. Feel free to disagree.


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  1. david anderson / Nov 2 2007 12:58 pm

    As chief marketing officer at the Coca-Cola Company, Zyman (The End of Marketing As We Know It) speaks from practical experience, but he also holds an MBA from Harvard. At Coca-Cola, Zyman both increased sales dramatically and oversaw the introduction of New Coke one of the most visible missteps in the annals of marketing. Advertising now is not effective, claims Zyman, because it is dominated by overly creative television ads that entertain and win awards but don’t generate sales. Expanding the definition of advertising to include everything from packaging to employee behavior, he argues that advertising must show a clear measurable return. One of his best arguments is that sponsorships should be reconsidered to make sure that every dollar spent drives increased sales. Zyman does not introduce many new ideas, but he does advocate that CEOs and marketing managers take a more active role to reinforce the brand and value proposition. While walking readers through a series of real-world examples of what worked and what didn’t, he downplays his own mistakes and shows little sympathy for the mistakes of others. Ultimately, though, the book reaffirms the classic notion that a company must think through its strategies up front while also welcoming change.”

  2. david anderson / Nov 2 2007 1:07 pm

    you may also wish to consider the IPA effectiveness awards and how they are assessed as ideas. they have published some very useful material relating to both ‘writing a brief’ and ‘judging creative idea’, i’m sure you would attain a wealth of information that is both pragmatic and of interest to ‘creatives’.

  3. davebirss / Nov 2 2007 3:36 pm

    Thanks David,

    I know the IPA very well. Thanks for pointing me to those documents – I’ve downloaded them and I’m going to have a good read. However, I’m a bit confused as to what you’re getting at.

    Did you post the Zyman article above to say that creative communication generally isn’t effective? Of course, creative work that misses the point won’t be effective. In the same way as unimaginative work that misses the point won’t be effective. But good, strategic, creative work is going to have a hell of a lot more impact on sales than doing the same formulaic advertising that’s always yielded a nominal return on investment. I can understand Coca Cola being nervous of really creative work because there is naturally a bit of a risk when you do something nobody has done before. Why would they take a risk when they’re at the top of the tree? It doesn’t make business sense. Their job is to retain their position and attempt to claw away a few more customers from the competition. Massive growth just isn’t an option for them.

    I see that you’re the course leader on a Creative Advertising course, which is why your apparent resistance to creativity baffles me. The way you put the word ‘creatives’ in quotes seems to betray an underlying belief that creatives aren’t actually creative. I find that rather peculiar. I know that, like any industry, the truly good people are a minority – but I have been lucky to find some amazingly talented people in the industry. I would hate these individuals to be tarred with the same brush.

    I apologise if I’ve misunderstood anything. The purpose of this blog is to help me develop my own skills as a creative – as well as help others do likewise. You may have noticed that creativity is important to me and I get pretty passionate about it!

  4. david anderson / Nov 5 2007 8:55 am

    i think you misunderstand me, i put the zyman thing in just to illustrate one point, and continue to provoke your readers to think and question themselves. in my view, we are imaginative and logical thinkers and the best ads are the ones that remove unnecessary noise, ensuring that what needs to be said in order to create a response is conceived. there is a great deal of self-indulgent advertising – ads that are created for peer approval, for self promotion – as well as some excellent material too. but, to ensure that advertising continues to grow it simply has to justify itself to the client and affect the consumer. we have dave trott working with our students as well as mother. we have all the ad agencies in leeds and manchester working with our students as well as a number of agencies in scotland. we are a creative course, with a growing reputation. our students are strategic, conceptual thinkers and i’m sure many of the creatives in the agencies we work with would fully support what i am saying. indeed, a number of our teams are offered jobs before they leave uni, the most recent was two level 2 students to JWT in manchester.

    as an ex creative myself, i am now trying to improve the level of education to students who have a passion to enter advertising as a creative. i am here to encourage our students to think by questioning and then question their thinking. a simple instruction with far reaching consequences.

    cheers, david.

  5. davebirss / Nov 6 2007 10:46 am

    Thanks David,

    I’m glad we’re working towards the same thing. Dave Trott recently gave me his permission to host his famous ‘How to get your first job in advertising’ document. There’s a link to it on the sidebar. I also have a connection with Mother, in that I’m just about to start as a Creative Director at their sister agency upstairs from them! And as a fellow Scot, I worked at quite a few Scottish ad agencies before heading south.

    I’m pretty passionate about education and feel that most agencies neglect it. Ongoing training on the job is particularly rare. That’s one of the reasons for this site. I want to create a resource for people in the communications industries – particularly creatives. I would also hope that this site would also be useful for some of your students.

    Please keep visiting and commenting. I’ve really appreciated your feedback.


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