Why the London International Awards' 'New' Category Isn't for Novelties
In 2009, I helped the London International Awards define a new category to reflect how advertising was evolving outside of traditional media. It grew from a desire to move things forward, because nothing inspires different kinds of work like new award categories.
We created the "New" category to look for generative mutations -- ideas that could create new types of advertising and new roles for the agencies that midwife them. And things did change in response to the incentives categories like the "New" created. Unfortunately, in the wrong way.
Agencies that didn't understand technologies, or consumers, or culture, created endless "prototypes," or worse, fakes.
Learning from Crispin Porter + Bogusky, everyone upped their case-study game. They were first to embrace the fact that awards are how agencies advertise themselves. With the awakening of the industry's conscience, agencies started finding causes they could pretend to care about and create fake solutions for.
Juries are made up of the top creative directors in the world, which is appropriate. But being artists or wordsmiths, many tend to see technology as magic. So when the app-splosion happened, lots of digital bagatelles started to win advertising awards.
It took a generation to understand digital ideas beyond paid media messages, and then we started giving them innovation awards, rather than digital ones. We award novelties, gimcracks and gewgaws, sleights of hand, fakes and social interventions that do more harm than good. And we know that. As the global CCO of DDB said: "At Cannes, there are winners with real work for real clients. But the majority of winners are not real."
I'm excited that Emad Tahtouh from Finch, an engineer and winner of the first D&AD Black Pencil award, is our "New" jury president this year. There's nothing he hates more than apps that don't have any application.
If I can't download it, I can't award an app -- because I haven't judged the app, just the case study. Software is not the same as pieces of film. It does not exist complete unto itself, only in usage. Advertising is consumed passively; technology is used actively.
We have judges from Google, Apple, R/GA, Mr. President, Grey and Ogilvy to balance between systems and stories. I'm heartened that we have diverse representation on the jury. Not just for the optics, but also so we can champion ideas that appeal to people beyond the hegemony of old white men in advertising. So that we reward diverse ideas that move the industry forward, instead of digital stunts masquerading as services (like "ordering" pizza with emojis -- which won an innovation Grand Prix, which should be embarrassing.)
The "New" is for something beyond advertising, real and directional. As Nils Leonard wrote: "The best ads don't look like ads any more."
That's not to say there aren't great ads being made but rather as a culture we have begun to experience creative burnout. We know the formats too well: the problem-solution-resolution of P&G; highest-order value propositions offering happiness; wicked smart images; aspirational association; 30-second gag; paronomasiac punchline.
And there are so many of them. Attention is a finite resource, yet we squeeze increasing numbers of ads into the same amount of attention. There's no way they can be as effective as they were when media was scarce. That's logic a toddler can understand.
Advertising as a genre is boring and formulaic. Technology companies started to hire the best away from agencies, building agencies with profits extracted from agencies. Consultancies are eating agencies up, absorbing them into their integrated offerings. In response, we bicker among ourselves like children, blaming planning, or digital, or creatives, or clients, all the while building toys to throw out of our prams.
Making "traditional" vs. "digital" a binary argument is lazy, divisive and self-aggrandizing -- arguing for whatever "side" you happen to sell services on.
When one-third of some audiences use ad-blocking software, when people would rather Netflix and chill, when cities have banned posters, and people as smart as Professor Galloway at NYU Stern are proclaiming the decline of the advertising industrial complex, what we need are new ideas about the nature of advertising and examples of the same.
So, enter yours into the "New" this year, to be guiding lights that lead the industry to a future for advertising we can be proud of.