It's a weird cocktail of emotion, really. You feel humble and grateful to be selected from what I always see as a massive amount of wonderful stuff. So you feel like you're not worthy if you win and then you feel like a miserable failure if you don't. I'm really not sure. Our society is dominated by this idea of awards and I think it's created several industries where people take a certain amount of their self-worth from awards. It isn't healthy but it's a fact. As an agency, it's not an option not to participate for us. We need to be a part of the insanity for several reasons. The most obvious is that we recruit people on a fairly regular basis and if they've never heard of us it's a bit more difficult. The second reason is that, believe it or not, it seems to be becoming more and more important to a lot of clients. My guess is that as the dynamic of new media puts consumers more and more in charge of when and how they see marketing, clients are quickly realizing that creative is becoming more and more important, and it's one of the only aspects they can leverage. That's why they're all heading over to Cannes lately. And even helping to judge shows like the Kelly Awards.
Does the best work wins the most awards?
It depends on how you measure the best. I know that often the most effective work for a client or the work that most resonated with consumers does not win as much as something else. But these shows are designed to measure only creativity, and creativity is just one component of what makes work successful. From my perspective, the job they do on judging creativity is very good. It's not perfect. And every judge can tell you about a piece of work they absolutely thought was brilliant that didn't get anything. In some cases that kind of work may be the very best stuff, but the world isn't quite ready for it. If you believe in what you're doing and the shows aren't awarding it, stick to it. They just might come around.
How do you judge great work now? How have standards changed as the media landscape has changed and it becomes more important to make work that people choose to interact with?
We had the luxury as advertisers not long ago of knowing that somebody would see our work because we had a model that awarded interruption. Creative people should be thrilled by the changes taking place because it will continue to put a premium on creativity. People a few years ago could be pretty much forced to sit through a boring commercial. But none of those same people would choose to sit through a boring program. Now that marketing is going to be opted into in the same way entertainment has been, creativity will become a much more respected part of the business.
There was a quote in Ad Age recently that said that the focus of advertising must remain on demonstrating the product and establishing unique and verifiable claims. "Persuasion has always been and remains the key . . ." Is this still a relevant way to think now? What is the key?
Damn, if I had the key I would use it all the time, but we find it's important to be fresh. Invention is so much more possible and accessible to anybody with imagination. As far as persuasion being key, I'd have to say that I see that as more of the mission than the key. I never had a client that didn't expect us to persuade. But I guess that depends on how you define persuasion and what is actually persuading to today's consumer. If you think you need to persuade somebody that they will get their whites whiter, I would probably disagree that that's enough today. First you'd need to get their attention in some way other than pure interruption. Something that offers them some benefit in interacting with you. Then you'd need to persuade them that you can get their whites whiter-knowing that they would expect no less and aren't all that impressed. And lastly, you would want them to understand how choosing your product is going to say something about themselves that they want to say.
Do awards juries recognize this? Which of your projects are you particularly happy was recognized with an award?
I'm very happy to see the Mini "Counterfeit" work getting recognized. It was a massive undertaking and a labor of joy for so many people at the agency, and it's the kind of work that gives us personally the greatest joy because the interaction with consumers, from the TV to the web, is so fun to watch. You actually get to see and read e-mails and blog entries from people who are being persuaded and entertained by Mini and the Mini brand. The relationship between brand and consumer is created so transparently and quickly, it's almost like creating advertising live on stage. It's an event. Happy. Happy.