Go on, you be the judge

Awards have currency in the ad industry but their impact is not always positive


With a deep sigh, I notice that awards season is upon us once again. Of course,
it’s very difficult to criticise awards without it seeming like sour grapes
if you haven’t won or appearing somewhat arrogant and ungrateful if you have won. Personally, I enter very few. The cost is ridiculous. And all that bloody form filling makes me lose the will to live.

But of course for a creative person, if you win, it’s always nice to get a pat on the back. It makes a nice change from getting stabbed in the back.

You can probably detect by now that I have pretty mixed feelings about awards. I most certainly do not need awards schemes to tell me if piece of work is any good or not. Loads of great people never enter them. And at the end of the day, they’re utterly subjective anyway. I’ve been on enough juries to realise how random and fragile it all is.

One of the few awards that I still do enter is D&AD. I love the fact that they re-invest the proceeds into education and it’s always seemed to be the one to win from my point of view. Although when I opened an email from them recently gleefully announcing 40, yes, 40 new categories, then my heart did sink a bit. That’s 40 categories on top of the squillion categories that they already have. I really can’t be bothered to make head or tail of it all. And the Annual has been an impenetrable mess for several years now.

This year I’ll probably do what I usually do – enter one or two things in one or two categories and hope for the best.

Which brings me to this month’s featured work. It’s crap. And I did it. Sorry. Well, that’s what last year’s esteemed D&AD art direction jury would have you believe. See? Sour grapes. Terrible thing.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that awards are not really for creative people at all. Sure, awards can help a junior creative get a pay rise from ad agency management. But the management team should already know whether that person is good or not. They shouldn’t have to win an award first. And awards are now used by big monolithic, desperately uncreative agency networks to convince clients that they are in fact not big monolithic, desperately uncreative agencies. Just look at the shocking amounts of money some agencies piss away carpet bombing awards categories if you want proof.

But the situation is even worse. A lack of awards can now be grounds for sacking a good creative person in an ad agency. Madness. And grossly unfair given the random way in which awards are decided.

This month’s featured work. It’s crap. And I did it. Sorry. Well, that’s what last year’s D&AD art direction jury would have you believe

The ad on this page may not be the best thing I’ve ever worked on. But it’s clearly pretty interesting and has, I would suggest, significant merit in the art direction department.

It’s for a charity that helps people who suffer from a disease that messes up your nervous system. So the art directional idea is to mess up the ad to help dramatise this. It also of course makes the ad really stand out. I remember seeing it as a page
in the Metro newspaper and it was beyond doubt the single most memorable and impactful page in there, IMHO.

Art direction is always interesting when it’s extreme. And this art directional idea is taken to extremes by not only messing up the picture but also the headline. And the copy. And even the logo.

And that’s why it’s good.

Entries are now open for the Creative Review Annual.

Paul Belford is the founder of multi-award-winning agency, Paul Belford Ltd. He tweets from @belford_paul. See paulbelford.com 

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