Jan 15, 2011

Creative Marketer, Or Glory Seeker? Who Do You Want Working On Your Advertising?

I don't participate in advertising contests. I haven't in a couple of years. The ad-toon by Tom Fishburne reminded me that our own ADDY Awards are right around the corner, even more so because our local ADDYs theme this year happens to play on the "Mad Men" motif.

I'm a bit outspoken about the ADDY Awards, and creative award contests in general, but don't mistake my stance as sour grapes; I've heard my name called out many times in association with an award, and have seen it adorn the ADDY star. I've had my time in the sun, and it felt pretty good. Still, I've become disenchanted by the whole process, and I'll try to explain why.

Over the years, I've worked with several talented creative teams, and all have participated in our local ADDY Awards contest. As a team member, I happily followed along and participated with everyone else. It was expected. It was just what we did.

The ADDYs, as an event, can be a lot of fun. It's great to get together with your local advertising peers, and celebrate another year in the industry. There's the drinking, the dancing, the laughing, the entertainment, and the usually great food. And of course, there's always the chatter about who brought home the ADDY glass, who felt like they were robbed, and the curses of those dissatisfied with the judging (unless it happens to lean in their favor).

I participated heavily in the ADDY process for several years, working behind the scenes, acting as ADDY co-chair, eventually moving into the role of ADDY chair for our local organization. What I learned was that while the ADDYs are focused on creativity in advertising, it ultimately comes down to how much money the contest is moving through the organization. I also learned that while the ADDYs do attempt to celebrate creativity, they do nothing to highlight whether a campaign was truly effective, and as a side-effect they foster a sense of accomplishment in the ADDY recipients that is regardless of the advertising's true impact.

And then, there are the ad folk out there that move into each advertising project with winning an ADDY in mind, often sacrificing effectiveness and reach for obscure wit and humor. The participants who've been at the ADDY game for a while enter their creative works with a strategy to win, often retooling creative projects year after year, knowing that they will be exposing the works to new judges with each ADDY cycle. Seeing this led me to wonder how much one can truly get from hearing their name, or receiving the ADDY glass, if the methods by which the accolade was received are empty?

My problem isn't really with the ADDYs, I suppose, but rather with what drives many of the participants. Tom Fishburne's ad-toon really captures this problem in its simplicity. If adding ADDY glass to your case is what drives you then you may be cheating your client out of a solid creative strategy. Creativity, at least in a marketing sense, should always be tempered by strategy. A strong strategy can bridle creativity in a good way, making it sharp and pointed, leading it towards measurable results. But I suppose that's what advertising is to me; strategy driven creative communications with measurable results.

But I digress. I'm picking on the ADDY awards because they are the creative contest I'm familiar with. In the ADDY's defense, it is a creativity based contest, which is good and fine. It never claims to be more than that. There is no hidden agenda, and there are a lot of talented creative people who participate in the process, many that I consider my friends (although, I may be on the brown list after this post).

My problem is not with the award itself, but rather the desire to win that it instills, a desire which can turn a creative marketer into just another glory seeker.

Which leads me to ask, which one do you want working on your advertising?
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