The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Who Is Fooling Who?

Being old, I’ve done more than my fair share of judging awards.

I enjoy it.

Yes it’s a major investment in terms of time, but when you come across an absolutely devastatingly good submission, it’s worth every second.

However it is also fair to say that over the years, there have been some real painful experiences. Either in terms of average papers being seemingly entered into every category in a bid to increase the odds of winning something or papers that have such a strong scent of scam, even Ray Charles can see how suspect they are. [Sorry Mr Charles]

I always laugh when I come across those. Specially at the agencies submitting them … because while they obviously think they are geniuses – or the judges are idiots – the reality is they’re wrong on both counts.

But here’s the thing, people can slag off awards all they like, but they matter.

For Colenso for example, they’re important.

We’re a small agency on the other side of the planet and being able to show our creativity and effectiveness is vitally important to keep demonstrating our validity to attract global clients.

But – and it’s a big but – it only works if its real.

And that only works if all the winners around it are also real.

Now I appreciate that different clients have different needs and budgets.

I appreciate different markets have different cultural traits, behaviours and media.

I absolutely appreciate some entries use a language that is not their native tongue.

And I think that is all brilliant – though I also think none-native English speakers are at an immediate disadvantage and the award organisers should be looking at ways to change that.

However, if you need to write 8456738585463 words to explain your problem or your idea or your insight or your results … you’re not helping yourself.

Nor are you if you are using the pandemic as your strategies main adversary – often followed up with the words, ‘how do we grow in an era of the new normal?’.

Of course I am not doubting the pandemic has caused havoc among categories of business all over the world. It’s definitely happened to me too. But if we don’t explain what the challenge is – how it has affected behaviour or values or distribution or competition or anything other than it ‘made things more difficult’ … then it’s as lazy as the time I judged the Effies in the US when Trump came to power and the opening line of 85% of all submissions was:

How do we bring a nation divided together?

[My fave was when a whisky brand used that as their creative challenge. HAHAHAHA]

I take the judging seriously because I want the awards to be valued.

I want the awards to be valued because I want the industry to be valued.

And I want the industry to be valued because I want clients to win, creativity to win and the people coming up behind me to have a chance of taking us all to better and more interesting places that we’re at right now.

And I believe they can if we don’t fuck up the chance for them.

I get awards are nice to have.

I get they can drive business and payrises.

But if we keep allowing bullshit a chance to shine – and let’s face it, we have time and time again – then all we’re doing is fucking ourselves over.

I’m fine with failure.

In fact I’m very, very comfortable with it.

Especially when it’s because someone has tried to do something audacious for all the right reasons … because even if it doesn’t come off, it’s opened the door to other things we may never have imagined. There’s even real commercial value to that.

But when agencies create, hijack or exploit problems to just serve their own means – then fuck them. Maybe – just maybe – if they did it at a scale that could make a real difference, you’d be prone to encourage it. But when it’s done to achieve just what is needed to let the creators win an award … then frankly, the organisers and judges have a moral obligation to call it out.

Asia gets a bad wrap for this. And over the years that has been deserved, but I can tell you no market is immune. Hell, I’ve even seen some in NZ recently – or one in particular – and what made it worse was it wasn’t even any good.

But as rubbish as that example was, at least it didn’t stoop to the levels we have seen previously.

Let’s remember it’s only 4 years ago an agency WON MAJOR AWARDS for an app they said could help save refugees on boats by tracking them in the sea … only for them to then claim – when later called out – that the app was in beta testing hence the information being sent back to users was not real.

Amazingly ignoring the fact they didn’t say that in any of their entry submissions and if they had, they wouldn’t have been eligible for the awards they entered in the first place.

Creativity can do amazing things.

Advertising can do amazing things.

But we fuck it up when we put the superficial on the podium.

Of course, this is not just an agency problem. Clients are also part of this. Because if they let agencies do what they are great at rather than treating them as a subservient production partner … maybe we’d not just see more interesting work, but even more interesting and valuable brands.



Best Of The Best Or The Least Bad?

Today I’m judging the Effies.

Oh awards …

I’ve written so, so much about them in the past.

Like here. And here. And here. And here.

I must admit, I am intrigued to see what they are going to be like in the UK.

Will they be a celebration of insightful efficiency or will they be like I experienced too many times in Asia, a stream of consciousness that just rumbles along till they think they have explained how they got to their idea and how they have proved it worked.

I guess we shall see later today.

I really, really hope they are good.

Not just because the Effies have always had a standard they’ve lived up to, but because it will give me faith the industry still has fight in it to do things right.

In my time in the UK, I’ve read a bunch of planning documents/portfolios/resumes that have been more about packaging.

Repeating a client brief in a way that has been ‘sexed up’.

Superficial.

Executional.

Literal.

There are a bunch of reasons for this.

Part of it is the lack of training agencies give their strategiests.

[Hence why we started the School of Strategic Arts]

Part of it is the huge amount of freelance planners out there who are doing exactly what they are asked because they are fighting for their livelihood.

And part of it is because of the client/agency remuneration deals which means planners are giving too little time to explore the best outcome to the problem they face.

Planning has a valuable role to play in effectiveness.

Planning has a valuable role to play in creativity.

But it needs to be allowed to do it to make it happen … so here’s hoping we see the best of what it can do today, because the Effies is not just important for the people who win, but for what the industry needs to get back to being.



The Best Monday Of Your Life. Unless You Live In NYC …

So the good news is this is the one and only post of the week.

I know … could today be any better?!

You see as you read this, I’m on a plane zooming my way to NYC.

I must admit I’m super excited about it.

Not just because I miss the rush of an intense city … nor because I will get to see friends who I miss very much … but because I’ll be doing two things that are going to be new to me.

One is I’ll be judging the final round of the North American Effies.

The other is that I’ve been invited to talk to design gods, Pentagram.

OK, so I’ve judged the Effies before and I’ve done more than my fair-share of talks, but what’s exciting to me about this is that it’s a totally new context.

The reality is American advertising is very different to the advertising I am used to, make and – to a certain degree – love.

It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just different.

More bombastic. More spell-everything-out. More leave-nothing-to-chance-or-interpretation.

It’s also much more rational and focused on driving immediate sales than creating a position in culture that builds sustainable brand value.

OK, not every brand is like that – and I also know many other markets are becoming more and more like this – but as someone who passionately believes in setting long-term directions, not to mention true culture driven ideas, it’s going to be interesting how I view the results versus some of my fellow judges.

As for the talk …

Well, we all know I can do that in my sleep, but I must admit I’m super excited to be doing it at Pentagram.

For those of you who don’t know, Pentagram are one of the undisputed gods of design.

Literally, one of the gods.

Given it’s not that long ago I was only using the IMPACT I must admit to being somewhat surprised they asked me to come talk to them about my perspective on design, but then I discovered it was less about me and more about the work I’m doing with a certain famous rock band which is why I felt the best way to handle the challenge is to only have 1 image and make that image truthful to what I am sure they’ll leave thinking about me.

Especially when they see my Birkenstocks.

So while I know it’s Monday and you’re probably not looking forward to the week ahead, I hope this post has helped offer you a glimmer of hope for the next 5 days. Unless – of course – you’re based in NYC, and then your week is even darker than you could ever have imagined.

See you next week …



When GREY Turns Black …

Yes, I know I’ve written about this a lot before – hell, I wrote something just 2 weeks ago – but I have to vent.

HAVE. TO. VENT.

As many of you now know, GREY Singapore claimed to have developed an app that could help stop refugees escaping their troubled homeland via the high seas, from dying.

It won a bronze Cannes Lion.

It was a total and utter fake.

Rightfully, this was picked up by the media and forced GREY to reluctantly [and I mean, reluctantly] hand the award back, but I have a question …

Why are people shocked at the scandalous behavior of Grey and Cannes?

This has been happening for years and nothing ever happens. Nothing.

Of course, exploiting refugees to win a bronze Cannes Lion is utterly sick but, let’s remember, LYING ABOUT ANYTHING IN A BID TO WIN AN AWARD IS SHIT … whether it’s an iodine bindy, a wifi enabled clothes peg or an app that alleges to help stop needless deaths of refugees taking to the high seas to escape their troubled homeland, despite the fact it is all fake and doesn’t work.

And what did GREY say in response to this finding?

They claim they had been clear it was only in its ‘testing phase’.

Which begs the question, why the hell did they think it was OK to enter an award supposedly based on real work.

I’d love to see the submission and see if their write-up highlighted this fact … which then means Cannes should have kicked it out before it even got to the judging phase.

A total fuckfest managed by imposters and charlatans.

But here’s the thing …

I don’t think the creatives at Grey Singapore are purely to blame for this.

They’ll probably get made the scapegoats, but it goes far beyond them.

There’s the local management who demanded their creative department win awards.

And the global management … despite their claim they never do this sort of thing.

And let’s not forget the holding company that pushes their companies for more and more [fake] results.

And then there’s Cannes … who openly and actively celebrate agencies that do this sort of thing in a bid to keep the money rolling in.

The one slight positive – apart from the work that is genuinely worthy of applause and a true celebration of what we do when we all want to do it right – is that the only reason this scam situation happens over and over again is because, outside of our bubble, few seem to give a shit about who we are and what we do.

In fact, it is only because The Guardian newspaper decided to do a story on the Grey Singapore app [I’m assuming because “refugees” are news worthy – so they’re being exploited again] that the murmurs of a few become the scream of a lot because without that story, I’m pretty sure it would be business as usual.

I hope someone hears it. It’s killing our industry and we need to do a u-turn very quick indeed.

GREY FOR GOOD … the supposed philanthropic arm of GREY is, in my opinion, nothing more than a front for this sort of thing.

If they were being honest they would name it GREY FOR OUR OWN GOOD, but as we have discovered from this years award entries [which, let’s not forget, is just one agency of many agencies pulling this scam] GREY and TRUTH are never comfortable bed fellows.



How To Get An Effectiveness Judge’s Attention …
May 27, 2016, 6:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Awards, Comment, Context

So I’ve been doing a bunch of judging this year and while some have been great, a lot have been fucking terrible.

It is kinda scary what some people think represents effectiveness.

Seriously, if they were running their own business based on their effectiveness measures, they’d be dead in a week.

Which is probably why they’re not running their own business.

Now there’s a bunch of stuff that can be done to make a Judge take notice.

Of course there’s the usual.

1. Actually have a story that shows effectiveness.

2. Appreciate judges know all the ways people try to polish bullshit.


3. Understand you have to have done something different to convention or you can’t claim you were directly responsible for the effectiveness.

But there’s one more thing.

STOP OVERWRITING.

Seriously, the amount of times I have to read, re-read and then re-re-read to try and work out what is being said is incredible.

I get some of the submissions are from people where English is not their native language so they feel they have to write more in a bid to make sure judges really understand the points they want to make.

I also know that I’m a bit thick so take longer to get stuff that the average person.

But – and it’s a huuuuuge but – some of the submissions are ridiculous, using 500 words when 10 would do.

I get the desire to add emotion and texture to the case study, but when you’re asked to ‘describe the insight that drove the strategy’ and you take 3 paragraphs to explain it, it’s either a bullshit insight or you’re trying to hide something.

A bit of advice worth thinking about is what a chef told my wonderful colleague Maria when she was doing some research with chefs …

“The more confident you are, the more simple your dish”

What I’m saying is that if your submission is good, have the confidence in it.

Seriously, good things will stand out and so all you need your paper to do is provide the stage for it to shine.

Failing that, you can always throw in a weird quote to capture the judges attention.

Recently, someone wrote this in their entry …

“It is only when a mosquito lands on your testicles that you realize there is always a way to solve problems without using violence”.

No seriously.

I even wrote on the judging paper that this may be the best quote I’ve ever seen.

Sadly – for them – that was the only highpoint of their submission.

Anyway, I digress. Again.

Look, I understand we get excited about the work we do.

I understand we all want to explain the journey to get there.

But for gods sake, think of the context and environment you’re playing in.

When your competitors are bombarding judges with long and complicated explanations and charts, less will most definitely be more.

[I fully expect John Dodds to agree, given I’m basically saying ‘no one reads long copy’]