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Commercial Art Must Be Both

By Published on . 3

I recently was invited to be a final judge at The Effie Awards, the one award show in the advertising industry that takes the effectiveness of a campaign into account. I've judged numerous creative shows, but had never judged The Effies. It was an enlightening experience. But it also brought up some fundamental issues about our industry for me.

Everything that's wrong with the advertising business can be encapsulated by the fact that we have separate awards shows for creativity and effectiveness. It's hard to imagine what the analogous award shows would be in other creative industries. It would be like the journalism industry giving out one award for prose, and another for accuracy; or the architecture industry giving out one award for beauty, and another for, what? Not falling down? Is there any value to a building that does not stand and keep the weather out, no matter how beautiful it is?

Well in the advertising business, evidently there is. The list of ads or campaigns that have been celebrated at creative award shows that did not deliver results (or in many cases, did not even run) is literally endless. This has always bothered me. Why should real work for real clients have to compete for industry recognition against work that only exists to please award show judges? And why can't we see that celebrating fake or ineffective work at our awards shows only makes it that much harder for us to sell great work to real clients? It's hard to convince your clients that you don't have an ulterior motive, ya know, when you do.

The Effies, of course, are the pendulum swing; the equal and opposite reaction to the creative shows. But just like most pendulum swings, The Effies go too far in the opposite direction, minimizing the importance of creativity to too great a degree.

For each submission, the judges were asked to read an agency-written document which articulated the challenge, the solution, and the results. Then we watched a four-minute video showing the work itself. We were then asked to score the work by four different criteria: the challenge, the solution, the execution, and the results. I, for one, found it impossible to score these issues separately. If a campaign got great results, but I disliked the work, did I score the "solution" high and the "execution" low? Isn't the execution part of the solution? If not, then why do I work so many late nights?

To the credit of my judging group, a collection of clients and agency executives where I was the only creative, almost everyone in the room seemed to struggle with the same issues.There were many submissions that got impressive results, but which were weak creatively. What to do? Is this the kind of work that Old Man Effie would have wanted us to celebrate? Some argued, "This is the Effies. We're supposed to judge the effectiveness." Others lobbied back, "Then why do we watch the work at all? Why don't we just read the results?" Of course, there was no winner of this debate. There is no good answer. And while I do not know how others filled out their scorecards, I can tell you that the most visible enthusiasm in the room was for campaigns that struck the precious balance and delivered both great results and great creativity. Of course!

And yet, our industry's award show culture almost encourages a deepening of the division. So here is my proposed solution: We take the two ends of this spectrum and meld them into one. We create a show where the Effie's process is used as a qualifying round. Think of it as the regular season in the NBA. In order to even get into the creative round, it must first satisfy the Effie judges that it got results. After that, let the standard creative award show process take over and let a group of creative leaders take on the messy task of judging which work was the most creative and inspiring. It's too bad there is already a show called The One Show because this would truly be the one show our industry would need.

Advertising is, and has always been, a balancing act between creativity and effectiveness. This is a messy, uncomfortable pairing. It's what makes our jobs hard, and important and necessary. Why should we resist this duality of purpose? Why, once a year, should we gather together and pretend that one or the other side of this equation does not exist? Furthermore, why shouldn't we celebrate how difficult it is and celebrate only the work that delivers excellence on both counts? It seems to me that this one chiropractic shift would bring our entire industry into alignment. Commercial art must be both. And until we as an industry can get this self-evident truth straight, we will forever be an industry at war with itself, sitting around award show judging tables asking each other which is more important, form or function. The answer of course is neither. And both. And we know it.

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