Every agency aspires to win awards. In a crowded industry, they provide valuable PR and an easily communicated competitive advantage, not to mention welcome recognition for a job well done.
But the awards landscape has changed over the years, with the nature and number of gongs on offer reflecting seismic changes in the industry – our methods, our goals and our priorities.
Our own recent experience illustrates this trend.
Originally, awards were almost exclusively the domain of the creative department. Clios, D&AD pencils and Cannes Lions – the grand trophies of the advertising industry – were established in the 1950s and 60s. The Mad Men era, when advertising came of age. These awards reflected the priorities of the industry at the time. Celebrating the art of advertising, these accolades (and in time, countless local, regional and industry-specific imitators) were conferred on creatives by creatives.
The premise was simple, if a little crude: a really tasty ad campaign was de facto good for business. Clients basked in reflected glory, content that, based on the available data, their budgets had been well spent.
Spot the key phrase: based on the available data.
Because of course, back then, the available data was more or less zero. The judging process was entirely subjective – whatever the cool kids thought was cool got the gong. Nowadays we can measure things we didn’t even know existed back then, and the burgeoning available data has assumed the role of kingmaker.
The number of awards up for grabs has mushroomed, but the spotlight is shifting away from creative brilliance and towards results – leads, sales, inquiries, hits, fans, followers, retweets, likes, mentions and so on and so on.
Of course, I don’t have any data to back up this assertion – this is a blog post, not a whitepaper. But this trend has gathered pace since the coming of the digital age in the 1990s.
Nowadays, everyone from Kevin Jones to Martin Sorrell is proclaiming the death of the advertising industry as we knew it.
These pronouncements may be a little premature – I don’t know of any agency that would refuse a Clio if it were offered. But the ‘big idea’, TV-driven brand campaign has become to the advertising industry what haute couture is to fashion: expensive, somewhat self-indulgent, largely unprofitable but extremely high-profile and glamorous, and a useful flag to plant atop the factories where the real work gets done.
The extent to which brands will continue to expend their budgets on such luxuries will be determined by the ability of their agencies to support them with a whole raft of other activity.
Being a tech-focused agency, with a noticeable skew towards B2B, awards like the Clios are largely of academic interest to us here at Mason Zimbler. But as recipients of three awards recently, in categories that didn’t even exist a few short years ago, we’re extremely pleased to be recognised for being out in front of the pack when it comes to the emerging engine rooms of effective marketing. And because these awards are given on results, we know our clients are as happy about them as we are.
Our work in content marketing, social media, and demand generation and automation is gaining us a good deal of recognition with industry peers and clients alike, and slowly but surely changing the shape of our agency, as they are changing the entire industry.
So after all that, some would say that it’s further proof the medium matters more than the message, and the Big Idea is irrelevant. But we beg to differ, because the real Big Idea isn’t a TV ad. The Big Ideas that will define tomorrow’s legendary agencies are still ones driven by real insight and authentic emotional connections – big enough to do this through every channel, in a more complex and demanding brand relationship than ever.
So actually, great creative matters more than ever, it’s just harder to create and sustain an emotional narrative in this more complex world. But if we swap our focus on the idea to just the channels, we devalue our Art to being pure arithmetic, and the truth is it’s far more subtle and exciting than that.
James Trezona is Managing Director at Mason Zimbler, Europe.