But the problem runs deeper than quantity. There's a quality issue as well. Remember the Clio fiasco? Certainly that was a high point for our industry. And for awards show detractors, this was the great "I told you so." But that was a few years ago-what's the mood today? Is everyone still down on awards shows?
If anything, I believe the rap against shows is actually growing, and if it continues it could infect the whole institution. And since I believe that shows provide a valuable service to the business, I'd like to separate the bad raps from reality. Let's start with the granddaddy of them all, sales are what counts, not awards. True, I have a client who often reminds me that the only reason to have an agency is to increase sales. But to assume no relationship exists between what wins awards and what wins over consumers is a mistake. Sure, there will always be terrible ads that sell like hell and gorgeous ones that bomb, but this is a game of odds, and you want to stack as many in your favor as possible. On balance, it's the unique, relevant and unexpected that makes both awards judges and Joe Public pay attention.
This is a personal theory, I admit, but we just took part in an interesting study that's being conducted by Donald Gunn at Leo Burnett for a seminar he's presenting at Cannes. Donald contacted over 100 agencies in 21 different countries that together have created 200 top award-winners, and asked for case histories on these ads. What he found was that 75 to 80 percent were successful in terms of business results. To give that a point of reference, he compared it to the success rate of all advertised brands in a typical product category, which is one-third gaining share, one-third treading water, and one-third sinking. So the average award-winner was about two-and-a-half times better-or, as Donald points out, "in the matter of a few seconds, awards show judges are over twice as likely to pick a marketplace winner as a marketing director who has a whole year to think about it."
Whether you buy into this or not, I hope most of you would agree that successful advertising does require some degree of inventiveness. To deny a relationship between the freshness of advertising and its effectiveness is to deny pretty basic tenets of this business.
So, having established that there is a relationship between ads that win and ads that work, there are still lots of other raps on awards shows, such as judges are indifferent, uninformed and make snap decisions. The reality is, judges are like consumers, only worse. If you think it's hard to impress a busy consumer, think about a harried awards judge. Imagine if you flew thousands of miles, needed sleep, were locked indoors with thousands of print ads, TV and radio spots and dozens of peers you really respect (so, of course, you're being judged as you judge). Talk about cynical and critical-it will take something truly exceptional to impress you.
There's another rap on the whole judging system: the process is flawed, inconsistent and too demanding. This has some validity. There is often some variation in what wins-we've had some pieces that win in some shows and bomb in others-but all I can say is this is not a precise business. It's part craft, part instinct. If you want absolutes study math.
Still, truly great work does tend to cross both geographic and awards show boundaries each year. As for toughness, hallelujah. The more stringent the better. Consider that only about 5 percent of One Show entries make it to the finalist level, which is what makes victory so sweet and the annuals so inspiring.
Another common rap is they favor small agencies over large ones. The contention is that big agencies with big clients and big budgets have bigger marketing problems, and it's harder to get fresh work through a big hierarchy. Well, there's some truth to that. Good work always follows the path of most resistance. It can be harder at big shops, but not impossible. There are big agencies doing great work, and the Red Book is full of small agencies cranking out loads of crap. But awards competitions do level the playing field some. It makes agencies with smaller and fewer clients more visible. I daresay I wouldn't be here if there were no awards shows-which may be another reason for you to question them.
The reality is, big doesn't excuse bad work, and small doesn't guarantee good work. Awards books are full of agencies and clients of all sizes. Besides, what's the alternative? Reward big clients for doing merely OK work? That would only penalize small clients who do great work. The right thing seems to be to hold the standards high and keep exposing bigger clients to intelligent, provocative advertising. Awards shows are one way to do this. Just as there are Oscars and Emmys and Grammys and Pulitzers and Tonys, in the advertising industry we may not need 20 awards but we need a few great ones.
So when you look at award-winning print and TV advertising, ask yourself this: if our only measurement and inspiration were the client and the marketplace, would we have work like this to wave at all those who accuse us of being