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Levelwing: Creative Awards in the Ad Industry are a Sham - Steve Parker Jr

Steve Parker
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Published: July 22, 2011 at 03:14 AM GMT
Last Updated: July 22, 2011 at 03:14 AM GMT

By Steve Parker Jr.

Come on, you know it, I know it and everyone else knows it too. Let's just be honest and call a spade a spade.

Creative Awards in the ad industry lack true accountability, credibility and fail to prove they have provided any success in the media or placement for which they were intended. Come on, you know it, I know it and everyone else knows it too. Let's just be honest and call a spade a spade. In case you missed it, a prime example is Kia Motors (the automaker); they won a Silver Press Lion Award at Cannes recently. So, congrats to Kia and their agency for such stunningly subjective creative, and the Cannes Judging Panel for failing the entire industry of advertising by leaving morality, ethics and self-respect on the curb in the process. Yes, I'm throwing you all under the bus and I hope it hurts. The Business Insider is calling this ad "the selling of pedophilia" and others like the blog Copyranter, "the sleaziest car ad ever."

It's not that I am against beautiful and stunning creative but I could put a half naked model on a toilet applying lipstick and call it creative to win an award. The fact is, I love creativity – I live in a creative household (my wife was a professional ballerina with New York City Ballet for Christ sake), I work in the creative industry, I grew up in Nashville – Music City USA, surrounded by artists of all sorts and I own an ad agency. Some of my best friends are creative people. I am even a lead investor in a music publishing and licensing start-up called Jingle Punks. I truly do love creativity. Yet, I believe the process of awarding creative in the ad industry is still a sham!

Kia, Cannes and all the involved cohorts in this situation are not alone in shouldering blame for lowering the bar in the advertising industry by the way so they don't need to feel the burden to themselves. Many others are at equal fault; this is only one glaring example. Agencies by the hundreds will pitch bright lights and sex appeal of their creative as well as amazing activations, UI (user interface) and experiences, but they rarely (not never*), rarely ever measure the true effect of that creative on the business objectives, or whether their measurement was skewed toward what they wanted to see or hear happened as a result.

*some agencies will measure success based on the merits of their work but the vast majority fail at closing this loop.

The ad industry for those that hadn't noticed - is changing. Yes, there are still folks that believe that creative is all that matters – a la "The Big Idea." The failure is to not realize that many if not all the assets, resources and data needed to effectively measure success in this industry ("The True Big Idea") already exist. Read: What comes first in a Digital Economy: Creative or Data.In the instance of Kia, I'll assume that like most brands and creative agencies those involved didn't test their creative (or run it past any impartial individuals or third party research) for honest, measurable and meaningful feedback. On the agency side many rely on their "creative process" {insert cute name for it here} with utter disregard for the merits of true empirical evidence and/or critique.

If you are a CMO, VP, Director or Manager of Marketing you've probably heard a pitch with the tune, "What makes us different is our creative process." Next time ask someone to prove that. No, no, no…not with an award but with true evidence. If you want an award as proof we'll send you a basketful to look pretty on your office shelf, we have a few to spare. That said, measurement and metrics for success are bending the creative industry at its knees and with precise calculations effectively placing value on the creative being produced. It should be this way – it is called moving the industry forward. Let me be clear – I am NOT saying all creative is bad. It is not – but it needs more accountability.

Let me use an example from ballet – an industry and art form with a deep history of creativity. I'll argue that it is reasonable to get any decent 18 year-old dancer in the world to win or place at a competition and get an award; however, she is still not dancing for New York City Ballet, or The Royal Ballet. So I have to ask, is that 18 year-old really a world-class performer? Or just an award winner?

Back to the shameful Kia ad that won a Silver Press Lion Award at Cannes. Yes, this ad won an award, but at what cost? The continued proof that most award creative is fully subjective to the likes and dislikes of a panel of judges? An award does not equal increased sales, awareness, purchase intent or any other meaningful measure and I'll bet this ad not only did not sell cars but that in the process actually damaged a solid brand.

If you've ever seen the movie Tommy Boy starring Chris Farley (Tommy) you may remember a scene in which he is trying to sell a customer (Ted). Ted says, to Tommy, something to the effect that he uses the competitor's product because there is a "guarantee." Hence the following conversation…

TOMMY: Let's think about this for a sec, Ted. Why would somebody put a guarantee on a box? Hmmm, very interesting.

TED: Go on, I'm listening.

TOMMY: Here's the way I see it, Ted. Guy puts a fancy guarantee on a box 'cause he wants you to feel all warm and toasty inside.

TED: Yeah, makes a man feel good.

TOMMY: 'Course it does. Why shouldn't it? Ya figure you put that little box under your pillow at night, the Guarantee Fairy might come by and leave a quarter, am I right, Ted?

TED: What's your point?

TOMMY: The point is, how do you know the fairy isn't a crazy glue sniffer? "Building model airplanes" says the little fairy; well, we're not buying it. He sneaks into your house once, that's all it takes. The next thing you know, there's money missing off the dresser, and your daughter's knocked up. I seen it a hundred times.

TED: But why do they put a guarantee on the box?

TOMMY: Because they know all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of shit. That's all it is, isn't it? Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time. But for now, for your customer's sake, for your daughter's sake, ya might wanna think about buying a quality product from me.

TED: Okay, I'll buy from you.

Hooray Tommy!! So, the point is, Awards don't mean a "guarantee" of success. In the advertising industry, judging Creative for its Creative merits alone is a mistake because it is purely subjective (just a fancy art party) and nothing more than an excuse for a third party organization to throw a party, create a new line of revenue (i.e. it costs to submit for these awards) and have a group of onlookers revel at what you have created. Don't get me wrong, it's always a fun time, I'll admit – but as Tommy would say it was, "a guaranteed piece of shit."

That's my 6 cents worth on creative. I'd enjoy your comments and feedback.

Follow me on Twitter @sparkerjr

Steve Parker, Jr. is a Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Levelwing, a digital advertising agency that provides data-driven marketing solutions. Steve can be reached at sparker@levelwing.com.

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