Saturday, March 08, 2008


Scam ads.

Two short words that stir up a lot of debate and strong feelings. Clients & competitors snigger at them. Creative people hate the term and fiercely defend the concept. Journalists ask award show organizers their stance on scam ads. Award juries spend more time debating whether an ad was a scam than its intrinsic merits.

Fashion shows.

A ceremony where designers show off clothes that nobody would wear in normal life. Where celebrities, critics, journalists and the public go into raptures about the relative merits and talents of the designers. Where only the most na├»ve and forthright people question the need for creating those dresses. So why aren’t those clothes called Scam dresses?

Formula 1.

A car race for cars that can’t be driven on normal roads with normal traffic. Where car, tyre, fuel and lubricant manufacturers jostle to create cutting edge products that aren’t for the lay public. Another place which generates a lot of passion and excitement but where nobody talks of scams.

I could go on with examples from other industries and other walks of life. But let’s now address the key question. Why is it that only advertising gets the label of “scam” and why is it that only we talk about it so much?

The answer probably emanates from a misunderstanding about the nature and purpose of creative awards.

Creative awards are meant to recognize work that has pushed the boundaries of communication. Effectiveness awards recognize work that has pushed sales or other results for the client. In the context of cars, Formula 1 races are creative awards, while car rallies are effectiveness awards. Get the difference?

I think juries of creative awards should be looking for unique insights, creative expressions and execution techniques. These insights, expressions and techniques could be demonstrated in the form of scam ads. That’s fine. What is important is their brilliance, their creativity.

Perhaps creative awards should drop the criteria that an entry needs to have been done for a real client and released. Why is that essential? If I have a brilliant insight for selling cars, then I should be allowed to use that insight in an ad that I create for a fictitious car and enter it for awards. If the idea is really great, then I should get an award.

Dropping these two criteria (or real client and release) would release ad agencies from a huge moral dilemma and also save the industry a lot of money. We all know that scam ads get released either at agency expense or by culling favours. Shouldn’t we just abandon this hypocrisy?

The advertising industry doesn’t have much of a R&D budget. We may do the occasional research, but that is usually to get PR for our companies rather than to genuinely unearth new insights. But there is a huge opportunity for turning creative awards into an engine for industry wide R&D.

This is where we can develop path breaking insights, expressions and techniques that would then be used (perhaps in a modified or watered down manner) for normal everyday work. Insisting that path breaking work be released is like asking Albert Einstein the practical uses of the theory of relativity. There are uses, but not all of them are apparent when the theory is first propounded.

Once we make it clear that creative awards do not need to be done for a real client, we are free from the constraints of that brand’s guidelines. We are out into the scary green fields of pure creativity. If we can then create something that makes the whole industry gasp – a show stopper in a fashion show – then we really do deserve all the accolades that we can get.


narendra shenoy said...

Most insightful. Your analogies are perfect. Enjoyed!

Additiyom said...

marvellously argued; you should be the official advocate for advertising

Anonymous said...

Fantastic. After a long time i am seeing your blog entry on par with the Suman i know.

The argument is bang to the point. I am surprised all those creative minds over the world have not thought this through quite like it.

bhatnaturally said...

Brilliantly argued, Suman! One of your best posts. Several blogs that showcase creative are anyway filled with ads that are currently labeled 'scam'. Yet we see examples of pure creativity that make us as you say, 'gasp' or go wow, what an idea in these blogs. Your line of argument gives creativity a larger platform.

Spiritualmanager said...

Sir, Gr8 justification, but aren't there are people in advertising who like to compare themselves with Sales department and often without much of thought.They need to acknowledge that they are unique and different. Sales figure is not Ad agencies job, companies have a Sales Department of it. I know a pune based ad agency who take gr8 pride in calling their creative department as sales department.

s4ur4bh said...

Hi Suman,

Interesting post but I have a few reservations ..

These awards are as sought after as are cricketers for ads in India. Everyone wants to win the maximum awards even though most of the work is not released properly and lot of it is scam (sorry for being blunt). Everyone wants a tag (of being the most awarded professional).

Wondering if one year all agencies decide not to participate in these awards, what would happen. How would they be rated as best agencies? And how would they show off? And how would they win more business?

And yes I love your suggestion of awards being free of any client silos and a free war of creativity and expression.

Overall an interesting blog.


P.S. F1, although those cars cant be driven on regular roads but the research they carry out for making those cars is used for commercial purposes. F1 thus can be excluded from Creative Awards and Fashion Shows.

kamal said...

Superb argument!! This article deserves to be on Brand Equity.