Advertising awards: A question of relevance - Part I

By , agencyfaqs! | In | February 11, 2002
O&M's and Leo Burnett's decision not to participate in the Triple A Awards raises the issue of any advertising award's relevance, especially when 'big winning' agencies start staying away

People do not remember the 1980 Moscow Olympics as much for the spectacular performances by Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson and Soviet swimmer Vladimir Salnikov, as for its boycott by more than 60 countries - led by the United States - protesting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. And although dozens of records were broken that year across sporting disciplines, the absence of many of the world's topmost athletes somehow rendered the milestones achieved at that Olympics a wee bit irrelevant. And even more, it made the sense of conquest among the victorious less exhilarating.

Interestingly, a similar sentiment found voice at last year's Triple A Awards. Post-awards, a vice-president with an agency that had bagged a couple of awards privately remarked at all the partying thus: "Winning is nice, sure, lekin mazaa nahin aaya. I would have liked to have beaten O&M to win these awards." (As we all know, O&M did not participate in last year's Triple A Awards.)

If last year's remark is any indication, the same vice-president would have even less cheer once this year's Triple A Awards conclude - if his agency ends up winning any awards, that is. For this year, not only is O&M not participating again, another agency that has a tradition of winning awards, Leo Burnett, is staying away too.

Both agencies have given their own reasons for not participating at this year's Triple A Awards. O&M has been maintaining that it wants to enter only one Indian award show annually - one that recognizes and awards all the disciplines of the communication process. With the Triple A Awards falling short on this count, O&M has decided in favour of the Abby Awards. Leo Burnett too has said that it wants to focus on just one award show, and has opted for the Abbys because it feels the Abbys has a better panel of judges.

Another reason why Leo Burnett wants to limit its participation to just one award is the glaring inconsistency in the results from award to award. Which is perfectly understandable, from an agency's point of view. An agency can win perhaps three to four awards for a campaign or an ad at one ceremony, and end up with one award at another. Worse, an agency may win more than one gold for a piece of work at one place, and return empty-handed from another for the same work. Not only does this defy logic, it is also downright absurd, and awfully suspicious, this way or the other.

There is also the cost factor. Competing in awards - both local and international - is an expensive exercise. And for globally networked agencies, there is no getting away from entering work in international awards (especially the Big Three - Cannes, Clio and OneShow), as participation is quite often compulsory. For the network, local awards are nowhere near as prestigious.

Whatever are the official - and unofficial - reasons for O&M and Leo Burnett not participating at this year's Triple As, the decisions throw up a bigger issue pertaining to award ceremonies. What happens when more and more agencies choose to stay away from an award ceremony? How much relevance does any advertising award have when agencies with a track record of winning awards stop associating with the award?

There is no denying that participating in an award is purely an agency prerogative… agencies simply cannot be forced to participate in an award. But then, for any award committee, there are some half-a-dozen agencies that are very important, simply because these 'big winners' make the show a success. Now, if a few of these agencies drop out, the process becomes incomplete, and subsequently, irrelevant.

"If many big agencies stop participating, it's a problem," says Chax (K.S. Chakravarthy), director, Persistence of Vision (POV). "But if a few drop out, I don't see so much of a scare. And the janata has a short memory, so no one remembers who protested and for what. And awards are anyway a motivation for creative people, so a kid who has won is really not interested in who was there or not there."

Piyush Pandey, group president & national creative director, O&M, agrees in part. "A tournament is a tournament, so for the committee, it is relevant," he says. "So it doesn't make a huge difference." But he does agree that the joy of winning isn't quite the same when the competition isn't of the first order. "Winning a triangular that has Kenya and Zimbabwe isn't half as exciting as winning one that has Australia and Pakistan."

Balki (R. Balakrishnan), executive creative director, Lowe, believes that the relevance of awards is not only on a slide, but will fall even lower, given the quality of award juries. "The award process is thoroughly screwed up, and I am seriously thinking of never being part of any jury," he says. "Panels are made up of people who have no idea of what is advertising. And in 90 per cent of cases, creative people will be appalled if they hear comments made by judges on why a piece of work is not worth awarding."

The relevance of any advertising award is directly linked to "the currency issue", as Anand Halve of chlorophyll puts it. What this essentially means is that a currency becomes meaningful only when a significantly large number of people buy into the value and authority of that currency. "The value of an award stands on its currency," he says. "So the fundamental issue is, what is the currency (the quality of the peers and professionals assessing the work) and who represents the currency (the award committee)? And the moment agencies that have a history of winning awards stops believing in the currency or its representative, the award becomes meaningless."

This, naturally, brings the role of the award body into question. Which is, in fact, at the heart of this matter. The Triple As committee insists that the Triple A Awards is the advertising industry's award. But, with both O&M and Leo Burnett deciding on the Abbys, the Triple As claim is being seriously challenged. And in informal conversation I have been having with a few other agencies, the impression I get is more and more agencies feel the Abbys is more representative of the industry.

So is the Triple As truly the industry's award? And if it is not, can the Abbys lay claim to the title? And if neither can, shouldn't the Indian ad industry have one relevant national award, and do away with the rest of the awards?© 2002 agencyfaqs!

(To be continued tomorrow.)