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Advertising awards: The most 'creative' scam

Monday, 20 January 2014 - 10:41am IST Updated: Monday, 20 January 2014 - 4:01pm IST | Agency: dna

Rachel Pilaka gives us an insider's view of the advertising world.
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The party season has come to an end, for most of us at least. The advertising budgets, both traditional and digital, have been satisfactorily consumed. But the season for awards (read: a very, very long party), to felicitate the incredible “creative minds” of the advertising world has only just begun.

Throughout the year, advertising “creatives” (a term used for copywriters) go through video after video of path-breaking ads made in Singapore, New York, London and even Korea, and “come up” with an oh, so radical concept for their clients. And throughout the year, these creatives are politely, and sometimes not so politely, reminded by everyone from a junior client servicing executive to a planner that their job is to create communication that will sell the client’s product. This process and “exchange of ideas” is not as smooth as I am possibly making it sound; it involves a fair amount of arguing, massive ego clashes and the exchange of fairly lethal abuses.

Come December, and the alcohol induced creative minds start thinking of ideas that can bring home an award; not an idea that sells but one that impresses. The idea is then partially executed, post which begin frantic calls.

“Hey, what’s up? How you doing? Achha, listen na, I’ve created a great ad for an adventure company. Would you happen to know the owner of small adventure company who would allow me to just use their name on the ad?”

“Hey, I’ve come up with a fabulous concept for stationery (visiting card and letterhead) for a law firm. I need a skilled carpenter to execute it. Would you know one? By the way, do you know what scam that agency pulled last year? They came up with a concept for a magazine ad. They approached the sales head of a national publication and got him to publish just 100 copies with that ad, and bought all 100 copies. Scamsters! They must be kept in their store room.”

A few slog it out to convince their clients these “out-of-the-world ideas” can result in escalated sales numbers. Others (subtly or literally) beg their clients to sign a document that permits them to enter the awards. Because, as per the terms and conditions of certain awards, the basic requirement to be eligible to participate is to have your clients testify that your ideas/campaigns have made it to print, TV, or radio.

Mysterious clients are churned out like butter and letters accounting for the brand-award entry are signed, sealed, and delivered. Then come the award nights, where the finest creative and unruly minds of the big, bad ad world congregate. There is drinking, smoking, beat-less dancing in spurts, hooting, a fair bit of sex interspersed with some unwelcome flirting and some more drinking (I sincerely hope the narcotics and the social service departments of the police is not taking note).

To give those outside the advertising industry a sneak peek into this #CreativeDrama, there was the leaking of Ford Figo’s controversial ad that showed Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the driver’s seat with three bound women in the boot.

The ad made headlines across the world. It led to the suspension of creative heads at JWT, a multinational ad agency, and employees at Ford who signed off the ad. More importantly, it opened a can of worms that led to a much-required tighter scrutiny of entries and the general public suddenly reading opinion pieces and columns on the advertising scam.

Big advertising personalities and even bigger agencies were dragged into filthy controversies. Awards that their teams were proudly felicitated with were shamefully withdrawn; whether or not they were truly responsible for the manipulation is a matter of debate.

The awards may have begun to acknowledge and felicitate the brightest "ideators" of the industry, but in the past few years, the event has become a madness people indulge in merely to add an award to their resume, an award that increases their growth prospects and brings about a substantial hike in their annual packages. Because of course, you’re not creative if you haven’t won an award. This madness, needless to say, has left some of the most dazzling portfolios behind over the years.

There is no explanation for this madness. It’s complicated. It is globalisation, the economy, money. It’s materialistic. It’s everything that each of us require, innately. We are reeling from plagiarism, patriarchy, hierarchy, egotistical attitudes, disobedience, and shams. It is a cycle of dishonesty and unhealthy competition that we’ve created to feed our hunger for fame. And the ones who have promised themselves to make it big will abide by this game. Fair and square.

I, however, still have my hopes intact because there is another side to advertising. A bunch of people who seek satisfaction in gestures and expressions – a pat from the company’s creative head, a smile on the client’s face after an idea is presented, hearing a seven-year-old hum a jingle you wrote. Those select few, those crazy advertisers, those rebels.  I’ve met them. They are the possibilists (trying to sound like Apple).

Have you heard of “The True Show” by Lowe Lintas and Partners? That’s their super cool “internal awards competition”, an entire evening of awards, honouring the best of their agency’s work. I smiled a little when I found out about these awards and have been at peace ever since. I’ve made peace with the annual outburst of #CreativeDrama.

I’ve realised that if I have survived, so will everyone else.

A writer by profession and a copywriter by chance, Rachel Pilaka is a copywriter at Setu Advertising, and Content Lead at Underscore, a content development agency. She is in awe of the changing faces of the advertising world and is still experimenting with the medium.

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