Who wins from the awards culture?

Do creative awards get in the way of good marketing? It is an issue that has been brought into sharp focus this week. Marketing Week has revealed that D&AD, which runs the annual awards ceremony most treasured amongst British advertising and design creatives, has unexpectedly parted company with its chief executive Michael Hockney.

D&AD’s yellow and black pencils are awarded for creativity in everything from television ads to packaging design. They are probably the supreme accolade most coveted by British creatives.

Some believe Hockney’s departure follows disagreements at the charity over rapid international expansion which has diluted the central role its awards hold for showcasing British creativity. Brands are becoming more global and D&AD is responding to this trend by taking entries to its awards from across the globe. But it raises questions about how creativity from different cultures can be judged against each other.

Some have wondered how well Hockney got on with this year’s president Tony Davidson, joint creative director at Wieden & Kennedy. But D&AD denies suggestions of a power struggle or personality clash and says Hockney has achieved much in his four years at the helm and has decided to take his talents elsewhere.

Still, there are those who criticise the creative charity for becoming too nakedly money-grabbing, extending paid-for membership and adding new awards every year to extract maximum entry fees from advertising and design agencies. D&AD responds that this is a good thing, as it can plough the funds back into its educational activities.

Hockney’s role will be filled by chairman Anthony Simonds-Gooding and the body says it will not look for a replacement in the short term.

But the shake-up comes as competition increases on the creative awards front, with a host of other awards for advertising and design agencies to worry about. The pressures to win awards are such that agencies can spend hundreds of thousands of pounds each year and many hours of management time in submitting their entries.

All this frenzied award entering leaves marketers worrying about whether their brands are being used as target practice for creatives, particularly in advertising agencies, to try and increase their award quotient. It may give incentives to agencies and help them to attract talent, but does it shift product?

Concerns over such issues have led to the increasing profile of effectiveness awards, such as those granted by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. But some brand owners will be loath to share their confidential information on sales with competitors.

Simply focusing on creativity means that subjective judgements will hold sway. With an eye on the big creative prize, ad agencies will be looking to create something visually dramatic that will please the judges.

Awards juries are dominated by a revolving coterie of a few dozen industry figures who make the big decisions. Critics say there is a definite style of ad that wins creative awards, be it for Honda, Guinness or Sony Bravia. They believe the whole process has had a profound effect on the type of ads produced and has created an ad industry that does not reflect the realities of business.

But such criticisms usually come from people who have not, and are unlikely to, win awards. These views are commonly dismissed as sour grapes.

Even so, many marketing directors have criticised the obsession with creative awards, seeing it as a distraction from the main tasks of persuasion and effectiveness.

However, for many brand owners, awards are becoming ever more important as an increasing of number former ad agency executives take up marketing roles and carry their desire to win awards with them.

They argue that in the fragmented media world of today, high profile creativity is becoming the key to making an impact on the public consciousness.

Meanwhile, observers believe D&AD will rethink the role of its awards and whether it should continue its international strategy. Whether this will persuade marketers to take creative awards any more seriously remains to be seen.

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