Nowadays advertising awards are such a massive global industry we tend to forget the reason they exist.
I think it’s worth looking back to a time before there was such a thing as advertising awards.
Can you even imagine that?
A time when there were no awards for advertising.
In those days, like now, copywriters and art directors wanted to do great ads.
But when they did, they were upset that they didn’t get any credit.
No one knew who’d done the ads.
The original intention of D&AD, as John Webster told me, was to get your work shown with your name next to it.
Just to get credit for your ads.
What everyone wanted, at that time, was an annual like The New York Art Directors Club.
A big book you could open and see lots of great work.
And next to the ads would be the names of the people who did them.
And it’s true.
When I was young that was all anyone wanted.
To get their work into the D&AD Annual as many times as possible.
Then go to the back of the book and compare who had most numbers after their name.
No one cared about who won the awards.
All that was forgotten the next day anyway.
But the book stayed around forever.
Constantly being picked up and scanned through by creative depts. all over town.
Year after year.
Even later on, at GGT, I wasn’t that bothered about awards.
Usually Gordon would just pick whatever he thought we should enter.
Then Nick Wray would grumble that we hadn’t entered enough of his stuff.
Everyone wants to enter every ad they’ve done because they truly believe it’s better than anything else that’s been done.
But an agency can’t afford to enter every single piece of work.
So a lot of the stuff that people love doesn’t get entered.
But I can understand why creatives want their work entered.
When I was at BMP John Webster wouldn’t enter some of my work.
So without telling him, I entered it myself.
After all, it was an investment in my career.
When it got into the annual, John gave me my money back.
I thought that was very fair.
Everyone should have a chance to put their money where their mouth is.
So later, at GGT, we formalised it.
If you thought your work was good enough to get into the book, enter it yourself.
If it got in the book, we’d give you double your money back.
If it won an award, we’d give you three times your money back.
That way everyone is free to back their own judgement.
Just like any bet.
And if anyone won any awards, the agency would take a table at D&AD for the creative department.
But one year we didn’t win anything.
So, instead of taking a big expensive table, I thought we’d invest the money on something more useful.
We contacted The New York Art Directors Club and asked them if they could find a complete set of all the NYAD annuals.
They said they didn’t have one themselves, but they tracked down a retired art director who had every copy.
He didn’t need them anymore and he sold them to us for what we would have paid for a table at D&AD.
A complete set from the 1920s to the 1980s.
Including the golden period of advertising.
New York in the 60s and 70s.
What was great was we now had a collection of all the best ads.
And no one else in London had it.
Our entire creative department pored over those books day-after-day.
We learned how to art direct and write in a way no else had access to.
We had an unfair advantage.
We knew every ad in those annuals, but we couldn’t have told you a single award.
Because you can’t learn anything from awards.
Awards are just other people’s opinions.
Of course not everyone thinks like that.
Some people are very impressed by awards.
Dave Waters told me about his first job after leaving art school.
The creative director had once had an ad accepted for D&AD.
Not an award, just accepted.
The CD had the acceptance certificate colour-photocopied ten times.
Then he had each copy framed and hung along the wall of the meeting room.
Near the ceiling, just too high for clients to read.
So it looked like he’d won ten D&AD Awards.
If we want to live in a world like that we can.
If we want to work for a boss like that we can.
Don’t grumble about it, it’s our choice.
If we choose to go along with it, we’re part of it.
It’s okay to have awards.
It’s not okay for awards to have you.