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February 20, 2008
Ads For Fun. Just Don't Do It.
I just heard a funny and disturbing story about a local advertising award show. Seems some young but very talented creatives went out and found a small client (in this case a small restaurant known for frying chicken). They did some ads and non-traditional work for them and gave it to the place. Once the work was finished, the agency where the young team works entered it into the local award show. Judges saw the work and apparently loved it. But instead of getting an award for their hard work, work they did on their own after hours, what the young team got was investigated.

It seems some local mavens of advertising award show integrity were none too amused by this extra effort and had the work pulled from the show because it was not legitimate enough. Thus, in addition to being investigated, the team then gets humiliated. And the message sent to other young teams is, “Don’t do anything extra. Don’t enjoy what you do to the point where you just want to do it for fun. Don’t practice in your spare time and hone your skills so that you may bring a stronger skill-set to the bank or medical device company that pays the bills at your agency.” The message is: when it comes to making ads just for the sheer joy of it, just don’t do it. Now if you ask me, admonishing people in the ad business for doing what boils down to practicing is about as sensible as telling an offensive lineman he’s spending too much time in the weight room.

Then there is the idea that this extra work constitutes poor ethics when entered into an award show. Now, on some level advertising award shows are a little ridiculous to begin with. Truth is, all awards that honor their particular professions look idiotic to those outside the profession. “Sellys,” “Plummies,” “Buildies,” “Bankies,” “Addys.” It’s all simply a bunch of people celebrating the greatness of their jobs. Try explaining to someone who is not in the ad business what a big shot you are because of a pencil from the D&AD, and depending whether you are at a country club in Boston, Ma or a bar in Jasper, Al, you’ll either get a blank stare or an ass-whooping. Award shows, unless they happen to be awards about curing a disease or something, are fodder for humor anyway. That said, why can’t people, especially people in the ad business, have fun with these shows? Just enjoy them for what they should be--creative showcases. To tell young creatives or anyone else at an agency that they can’t do extra work to build their skills and their portfolios is preposterous. What’s more, it’s not like this argument is anything new. Look back at Communication Arts from the early 80s and you’ll see work from “Drinking Buddies Advertising” in Richmond, Va right next to work from Ogilvy & Mather in NY, NY. And if memory serves me right, it was this “Drinking Buddies” work that helped Richmond earn a reputation as an off-the-beaten-path creative hotbed that continues to this day. In small or mid-sized markets creative people aren’t always given great opportunities by bill-paying clients. Thus, as was the case in Richmond, there is much to gain from finding clients who will give creative folks a little more room to work.

One solution to this ongoing argument would be to simply not enter any local show that is designed to do anything but celebrate creative. Let the non-creative folks (no offense) and washed-up hack still creative folks have their show and create a new one just for the work. Make entering simple and charge just enough to bring in two great creative people to judge it. Buy a keg or some Cokes, find a space and have a real show. A show that will celebrate work whether it was made for Behemoth Bank, Biscuit Village or Bob’s Unicorn Petting Zoo. The bottom line is the better creative people get working on small, under-the-radar accounts, the better they will be when working on the accounts that build both portfolios and agencies.

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With more than 20 years working in the advertising business, Dave Smith has written copy for BBDO, Hill Holliday, Boone Oakley and Ogilvy. His industry awards include Communication Arts, The One Show, and D&AD. Dave is now a freelance writer/creative director based in Nashville, TN. His website is davewordsmith.com
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