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Advertising Awards Are Stupid. But Also Important

Advertising Awards Are Stupid. But Also Important.

I have a piece of art made by Rohitash Rao on the bookshelf in my office. It’s an award. A golden (plastic) statue that sort of looks like an Oscar stands on a wooden base. On the base, in wonderfully frantic hand-painted white letters, it says “YOU DIDN’T EARN THIS.” I love it because it reminds me of the foolishness of awards. Especially advertising awards.

Next to it, on the same shelf, sit my advertising awards. A One Show Pencil. A Clio. Some Addys. A Telly or two. I can’t seem to find the Cannes Lion (bronze), but when I do, that’s where it will go. I’m proud of these awards because they remind me that I have participated in doing work that was recognized by my peers as “great”, whatever that means. And that inspires me to try to do it again. And to know that I can.

Am I stupid? Not really. I know that winning an award doesn’t necessarily mean that the work “worked” on consumers. Many award-winning creative solutions didn’t have any effect on sales, as the haters love to remind us every year during award season. The very worst examples of this are the fake ads made by unscrupulous creatives who just want to win an award to soothe their fragile egos. Most award shows have tried to squash this by making new rules, but the award-addicts will always find ways to get around the rules. This is infuriating.

But in another way, I am stupid. I’m human. Like all humans, I have an ego. We are imperfect creatures. We need lots of ways to inspire ourselves to action. An action as simple as looking at our naked bodies in the mirror can inspire us to go to the gym. (Or maybe to buy roomier pants.) Tracking your finances can inspire you to make changes that help you save more money. These are ways that we hack our imperfect human brains.

I was always very disorganized. I thought it was just a part of being “creative”. But I’ve recently started Bullet Journaling as a way to inspire myself to stay on task and get more done. The simple act of writing everything down by hand somehow connects to a part of my brain that has way more organizational skills than I knew I had. And the work has gotten better for it.

Awards can be an inspirational tool. Awards are not the goal. Great work is the goal. But by hacking our egos, we trick ourselves into pushing the work to a better place. The result is surprising, novel work that can better spark the imagination and move people to act. At DiMassimo Goldstein, we call this Inspiring Action. Sometimes, it’s a traditional television spot. Sometimes it’s an experiential pop-up made to be shared on Instagram. Sometimes it’s a web-enabled doohickey that helps volunteer types find like-minded dates.

Awards are also a kind of shorthand for creative minds. The same way hobos marked houses with weird symbols to let other hobos know if they were safe or not, awards are a secret language that tell the makers of the world: “this agency will feed you and give you succor”.

Awards help us push past the obvious. Getting the work to a place that is “award-worthy” is an important way to check our inherent bias towards our first thoughts. We are forced to find elegant solutions to our clients’ business problems that can stand alone. Or to rethink the problem entirely. This is a good thing for business.

Our campaign for Shutterstock is winning a lot of awards. A shorty. Two webbys. A One Show shortlist (grumble grumble!). And a coveted, hard-to-win D&AD pencil. I haven’t checked the Cannes results yet, but it’s got a shot. And this may be the one case where awards are a part of the marketing solution itself, because creative people are the target. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on our minds as we worked on it a way it normally isn’t at first. We had to impress the creative class and we did. Sales are up big.

So the shelf in my office will have more awards. But the Rohitash Rao piece will always stand in the middle, reminding us all that awards, in the end, are just tools we use to get to great work that works. 

– Tom Christmann, CCO of DiMassimo Goldstein