Some things never change: Awards

Design and ad industry awards have come under intense scrutiny for decades. We look back through our archive to find out why these schemes have stoked controversy for so long, and why there has never been a consensus in the creative industries on what value awards bring

In the spring of 1980, Creative Review launched as a space for the “critical discussion” of commercial creative projects featured in awards. That same year, two schemes – Cannes Lions and Internet Local Radio (ILR) – withheld awards due to a lack of work the juries felt was up to the mark, with both events prompting debate on whether this was an appropriate response. It would be the first of many such discussions on the standard of awards schemes in our pages over the ensuing decades, and how they influence creatives and their work.

Torin Douglas, the first editor of CR, remarked in 1980 that as far as awarding the best of a bad bunch is concerned, “to dignify them with an award would reduce the whole standing”. It’s an argument that has reared its head in CR every few years since, along with the debate around whether the sheer volume of different awards on offer also dilutes their impact.

In July 2000, Liz Faber remarked on the Clio Festival, where “a mind-boggling 255 statues were distributed”, implying that the higher chances of winning negate the award’s power. Leading awards schemes have continued to cause controversy over the subsequent years, leading, most dramatically, to Publicis Groupe ­pulling out of Cannes Lions entirely in 2017. This, alongside other industry uproar, led the festival to alter its approach – which had become increasingly bloated in recent years – reducing both the length of the festival and the number of awards subcategories significantly.