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Why Great Creative and Award-Winning Creative Aren't the Same Thing

3 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, and this is everything I wish I knew about the advertising and creative industry when I got started. And everything I'm discovering as a Creative Director today.
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The CEO of Publicis Groupe, Arthur Sadoun, made an announcement. No Publicis agency (and there are hundreds, Saatchi&Saatchi included) will enter award shows in 2018.

It made no difference to me. It’s an unpopular opinion, as an ad creative. But I don’t care about ad award shows.

However, most of the industry puts an insane amount of emphasis on them.

We Don't Need Awards, We Need Creativity

In a world where record labels are afraid of Spotify’s exposure of independent artists, book publishers tremble at Amazon’s self-publishing methods, and TV networks are falling apart in the wake of streaming platforms, why do we allow this system to control our industry?

Don’t let the few define your success.

Now, award shows aren’t inherently bad, but in their current state:

  1. They don’t judge advertising.
  2. They’re harmful to creatives.
  3. They’re corrupt.

Judging Art, Not Ads

This is simple: good advertising sells a brand. But award-winning ads don’t require that.

For example, the #LikeAGirl campaign won the Grand Prix a couple years back (Cannes’ highest award). Now, it was a great idea, but could you tell me what the brand was? Don’t worry, not many people who saw it actually could. Personally, I thought it was Dove.

Spoiler, it wasn’t.

Nobody knew what brand #LikeAGirl was for.

In fact, the only way the ad could help push brand recognition was to slap the logo on the bottom corner of the screen the entire time. The spot itself did a horrible job of selling the brand.

But as an artistic expression of human was amazing.

If we want to award art, then award art. Just don’t call them ads.

Award Shows Harm Creatives

For decades, a professional creative’s worth has been built upon two things: their portfolio and their list of awards. Just like listing an agency on your resume speaks for you, so do awards.

Awards are for agencies that can't judge good work without someone else telling them it's good.

But, many creatives (and their agencies) are focusing on winning awards, not upon effective advertising. And then, that teaches incoming creatives to think the same way. And agencies hire with that mindset.

Winning awards is acting as a qualifier for talent. But the qualifier isn’t actually talent. It’s the ability to cater to the award culture.


Corrupt may be a strong word. And that’s why I’m using it.

First off, it's a sadly understood practice of agencies running potentially award-winning creative in small runs, just to qualify it for the submission...but that aside.

You ever hear of award show lobbyists? In the advertising world, there are lobbyists, much like there are in politics, who will make sure work is put in front of the judges in the right light, long before the judging happens. They grease the right wheels and schmooze the right schmoozees. But if you don’t have the money to make that happen...well, that’s your fault for playing fair.

The corruption is even unspoken and subliminal. Like little-known judges voting for big-time agencies in an attempt to impress them. Or judges voting for their own work. Or friends voting for their friends’ work.

It's like high school, but with a $2,000,000 rosé budget.

In the end, the work that wins isn’t always the most creative work that's out there. It’s the work that had the right people lobbying for it.

It’s Not About What I Think

Cannes makes $60 million last year on its ad festival. I don’t blame them, it’s a business. But it’s only so profitable because of how much emphasis the agency world puts upon it.

Now, I completely understand the value of the award. It offers validation and a quick way to show others your value. But it’s skin-deep and misleading.

It’s up to us to recognize talent and creativity. But not because of some hardware. It’s the age of disruption, so perhaps it’s time for someone to disrupt us.

BTW, the #LikeAGirl campaign was for Always.

Thanks for reading!

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