Thursday, April 10, 2008

ARE OUR (GLAM) ad awards, sending out the wrong signal?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri attempts to examine the truth behind the hype, hoopla n’ hysteria, glitz n’ glamour, awe n’ aura that accompanies today’s award ceremonies – and award winners!

Cannes. Abbys. Goafest. Ad club events … Awards seem to be the flavour of the day… and award-winners, the new Supernovas on the block. This was brought home to me dramatically when some biggies of the revered JWT, candidly confessed that – despite their blue-chip lineage, glorious track-record, fantastic client profile, impressive size and gigantic billings – they were finding it tough to attract the right (hot, young, gifted) creative talent. Kids just didn’t appear interested in moseying over to their corner. (Insiders claim that boring, factory and too systems-driven were some of the kinder terms used!) To the reputed market-leaders, this was bewildering, surprising and disturbing. What was the problem? What did the others (Read Ogilvy, McCann, Lowe) have that they didn’t? Why was their work – or head-honchos – never featured or written up (like Piyush, Prasoon or Balki) like some others? Reviewing the scene, they discovered, one of their greatest perceived flaws was a lack of awards. JWT never made any waves at award ceremonies. It lacked charisma and chutzpah. A dramatic re-scripting of the blue-print followed, wherein it was openly declared that the creative product, henceforth would define their new persona. That the creative guys would work in an atmosphere that would be conducive to create outstanding work. That awards would be targeted with passion and purpose. Did this re-invention help? Both, Delhi-based Rohit Ohri, Managing Partner and Mumbai-based Agnello Dias, NCD, categorically nod in the right direction, pointing to a slew of awards and nominations that, subsequently, has come their way …Great, but seeing the big picture in recent times, doesn’t one get the distinct impression that too much song n’ dance and dramabaazi is attached to the awards thing? That, many times, they send out the wrong signals (for young, impressionable starry-eyed aspirants) about the kind of work that is felicitated (and awarded) and the quality of the creative animal, hymned and celebrated? That somewhere along the way, the industry – agency & clients – completely blown by this new bimari, have misread the writing on the wall to wow the sizzle – not the steak?!

Mohammed Khan (the just-retired Chairman of Bates Enterprise) is shocked at all that goes in the name of awards and is convinced that the industry has completely lost the plot. “Awards, at best, are meant to be by-products of fresh and interesting work that makes a difference, but the way its caught fire gives it both, an unreal and dangerous dimension. Its as if an award is the ‘real’ product and advertising, a poor also-ran! I’m told teams and budgets are set up in some agencies for this – imagine! Then, of course there is the very real and active ‘scam’ factor. Khan believes that the general standard of advertising today “is the pits and the industry should focus its attention in doing good work. Clients should be ashamed of these goings-on and blow the whistle, but I guess, they too are taken up with the glamour and media coverage and are happy to be co-opted. Awards, truly, seem to have taken on a life of its own … really tragic and deeply disappointing.” Ogilvy’s mustachioed public face, Piyush Pandey, is cool. His agency has been the recipient of a zillion awards for sometime now and he has no reason to complain. He believes that the guys who crib and moan are the losers for whom it’s a case of sour grapes! He emphasises that every single piece of work that is submitted for awards from his agency “is meticulously scrutinised by an in-house committee and selected as much for brand performance as creative excellence”. Personally, he enjoys award-functions and awards and gives it “the space, recognition and importance it deserves”.
Lowes’ reputed anti-awards champ, Balki, brings his very own case to the table. “If awards are meant to really reflect and celebrate excellence, I’m all for it. Problem is, (in most cases) the people judging advertising still have archaic and stereotypical ideas of creativity, which conflicts with my version of a level playing field. Why rock the boat and create controversies? So I stay out”. Balki is also of the belief that in most cases, clients are way ahead of agencies in terms of creative and breakthrough concepts … and consumers are miles ahead of the learned jury members when it comes to selecting the best!

At the end of the day, awards really are meant to salute your merit and provide impetus to further raise the bar. However, in recent times (thanks to a glossy, dumbed-down media) the ad industry in general and awards in particular have really occupied miles of media space, transforming Creative Directors into Page 3 creatures! These chosen few are then flaunted as trophies by their agencies to clients in the hope of getting business. Other agencies also eye them with the idea of poaching. And suddenly its not advertising we are talking about. Vague echoes of IPL?!


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