The Increasing Importance of Creative Awards

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This week the Loeries will once again award excellence in advertising and creativity in South Africa. With somewhere around 3000 entries this award show stands head-and-shoulders above any other comparable show – and is one of the toughest to win at.

Like all advertising awards (or, perhaps, all industry awards) the Loeries consistently takes flak for being a self-important masturbatory affair, and an excuse for otherwise sensible adults to behave like teenagers on spring break. But this tired – and frankly anachronistic analysis – fails to understand the role that these awards play in a multi-billion rand industry.

It also misunderstands the now commonplace refrain that “advertising is dead”. This is a bit like saying “letter writing is dead”, failing to notice that something more compelling has risen from its ashes. And that’s only to the extent that there are ashes. In a country with such diversity of living standards it is many years too soon to call the undertaker on radio, newspapers and TV.

In fact, we find ourselves in a more and more complex media landscape. And, within this, a fantastically complicated advertising context. The number of touch points between businesses and their customers has grown exponentially in these digital times, and both marketers and agencies have struggled to keep pace with consumer expectations.

These expectations are not simply that I as a consumer can reach out and touch a company on my cellphone, tablet, PC, TV and – soon enough – watch, heads-up display, fridge and in my car. It is also that the appetite for, and attitude toward, advertising is in flux. Interruption marketing is less acceptable to those of us who can afford to avoid it, regardless of context. And in every context the competition for attention is at a fever pitch.

What the Loeries seeks to do, within all of this, is to highlight those that are successfully managing to stand out from the background noise. The lens is creativity but that term, too, is being semantically gentrified. What passes muster for the judges charged with choosing the winners is of our time. That means the work needs to prove out in a way that an ad ten years ago would never have been expected to.

Here’s a simple example, from the global stage. The much lauded “Dumb ways to die” piece, from Australian Metro Trains, was at once a public service announcement, a viral social media phenomenon, an iPhone game and a hit single. It charted within reach of Gangnam Style in iTunes for god’s sake.

Award shows have the effect of underlining these successes. They create shorthand for “these are the people who know how to win for your brand”. And of course they would. Both the Loeries and the Bookmarks – which I am closely involved in – adhere to procedural rigour and a selection of the best minds in the market to review the work. Including, by the way, some top international names who have no vested interest in seeing any local agency win.

So, as we head into Creative Week and the Loeries this weekend, and the Bookmarks a little over 2 months later, we should remember that for many clients, these awards create lists of agencies they might like to work with; they celebrate the power of strategic & creative thinking to build brands; and remind us that to win, you have to be in the game.

Good luck.

The Loeries takes place on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd September in Cape Town, at the end of Creative Week.

The Bookmarks takes place on 14th November in Cape Town – and you still have time to enter!

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