Trophies are meaningless

By Published on .

I heard a story the other day that made me angry and embarrassed to be in this business. A creative director at a big New York agency gathered his troops together for one of those motivational breakfast meetings that creative people only show up for because they're afraid for their jobs or they have a hankering for free bagels and cream cheese. Or both.

Anyway, as 100 or so creatives sipped orange juice from little plastic glasses, this creative director made it perfectly clear what their mission in life was. He informed them that the only reason to create advertising-the only reason to work in advertising, the only reason to show up in the morning-was to win awards.

The economy is withering, the stock market is a roller coaster ride, layoffs are in the news every morning and every night, and the talk at one of New York's biggest is of awards.

If only Alan Greenspan could understand that all this country needs is a Clio to set things right. Unfortunately, this is not a unique story. You can hear others like it at happy hour in agency hangouts from New York to Los Angeles any night of the week.

As a creative director and now an agency owner, I think it's time this industry stopped sucking the ether of its own press and peers and realized that the world is passing us by.


How many of the brands we admire, respect and, most importantly, use every day did a "great ad" lately, let alone win an industry award? That Starbucks Carmel Machiatto sitting on your desk while you read this-what do you think of their practically non-existent ad campaign? Those Guccis on your feet-think that advertising will be marching off with a Gold Lion anytime soon?

Ralph Lauren, Smith & Hawken, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Palm Pilot, Pottery Barn, Home Depot, Armani, Virgin, Cartier-these are just a few of the brands that everybody I know in this business loves, covets and spends a great deal of their paychecks on. And not one of them is known for its award-winning advertising campaign, nor do I know that any of them have ever appeared on the Super Bowl.

But shout into any creative department in the land that there is a sale on at Prada and you're fairly guaranteed to get trampled if you're standing anywhere near the door.

So am I biting the hand that feeds me?

Most definitely not. I believe in advertising. Good, smart, creative advertising.

What I am saying is that if we want this industry to continue being the hand that feeds us, if we all want to have jobs in five years, we'd best get back to the business of helping our clients sell the things they make and offer.


It's time that we stopped teaching young creative people to consider it a victory if the logo in an ad is hard to find, or if the product doesn't appear in the commercial at all. It's time we stopped using "break through the clutter" as an excuse to say nothing about what it is we're selling or why you should buy it.

The dot-com explosion brought us a boatload of very entertaining (and yes, award-winning) advertising.

And, quite frankly, the dot-com implosion is proof positive that making people like your advertising will not make them buy your brand.

Advertising can and does work. But it is about selling things.

It is art for the sake of commerce, not the other way around.

If the smartest thing to do for a brand is make the logo beautiful and then make it huge, then that's what should be done (see Gucci). If the product is gorgeous and will make people want it, then why make a joke instead, or shoot a picture of something else or flash the product up for two seconds at the end of the spot? When did "product as hero" become the territory of advertising hacks? If it's beautiful, show it off (see Apple). If it's not and it needs to be, then take the advertising money and hire a good industrial designer.

And, dare I say it, if direct is the way to reach the target in the most powerful way, then crank up the Pitney Bowes machine and get your best brains to work on producing a brilliant, beautiful mailing.

In the eyes of some of my peers, I have probably just committed some kind of creative hari-kari, never again to be invited to be an awards show judge. But to my way of thinking, being really creative in this business means solving problems and building interesting brands that people want. It means understanding that everything that is said about a brand is advertising for that brand. It means owning up to the fact that a brown cardboard wrapper on a paper cup-that says "this wrapper helps your Starbucks coffee stay hot, your hand stay cool, and saves an extra cup which is good for the environment"-may be a thousand times smarter as a piece of advertising than any 30-second commercial ever could be.

I just wish I had thought of it.

But then, what category would I enter it in at Cannes?

Mr. Bouchez is a principal of Bouchez Kent & Co., New York, and former executive creative director at Bozell.

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