When D&AD was in its infancy its mission statement was ‘stimulation not congratulation’, i.e.: the point of the awards was to show the non-winners just how great advertising could be, thus stimulating them to reach for greater heights of excellence. And that made good sense, in both a ‘I wish I’d done that, I must try harder next time’ way and also a ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ way.
But does it still hold true today?
I suppose it depends on whether or not you look at the winners of these awards (including Cannes, The One Show etc.) and react in the way described above.
That was certainly the case when I was younger, as my peers and I would rush down to the D&AD launch, grab our annuals and study the fuck out of them until our eyes bled and all those great ads seeped into our minds. But I’m pretty sure that’s not so much the case any more, so does D&AD’s original aim still stand?
I’ve written before about how the D&AD Annual is no longer the object of reverence it once was (there are now so many online ways for the best work in the world to be distributed as it is released that a yearly collection is never going to hold the novelty and surprise it used to), and I’ve mentioned many times the cash and fun reductions that have led to a talent drain. Have the two combined to make the stimulation effect of awards less significant? If the work has not been improving in this country for several years then either people aren’t caring enough about awards to be stimulated by their possibility, or they do care, but it isn’t having an effect. And if either of those are the case then why bother with awards at all? (That’s a facetious/rhetorical question. I know the purpose awards now serve: to give agency creds a Gunn Report rating to crow about, and to give awards bodies the opportunity to make lots of dough).
So now D&AD is more about congratulation/cash than stimulation. Fine.
But as I continued to think about it I wondered about the extent to which awards ever do the job of stimulation. I have trouble believing that Grammys and Oscars truly affect the standard of people’s work. Does Daniel Day-Lewis act any better because he wants a golden statuette? Does David Bowie stay in the studio any longer in the hope of winning a small, ultimately pointless bauble? I think certain films are put together with Oscars in mind because, like the current D&AD, that can have a financial benefit to the winners, but does it stimulate people to higher standards? That’s a harder one to argue. Some actors probably want to die as ‘Oscar-winning Mr. Blah-Blah, but I think that informs their choice of movie rather than the standards they apply to their performances. Sure, Bruce Willis acts better in ‘better’ movies but that’s probably down to the kind of work that Die Hard 5 and G.I. Joe 2 demand vs the needs of Pulp Fiction and The Sixth Sense.
That’s interesting because actors definitely want Oscars, either for posterity or to get more/better work/money in future, and creatives definitely want D&AD Pencils for similar reasons. Perhaps that’s what’s behind the ‘stimulation’: the rewards that come from the winning are great enough to stimulate people to try to win. Does that mean they’re not motivated by the pure increase in quality, the possibility of doing their best and fulfilling their potential? Maybe, but then there’s always a further question of motivation behind all those things: do you do your best to gain more respect because you feel insecure? Do you want more cash because you want your kids to go to a better school?
But now advertising awards don’t lead to the same rewards. The raises are smaller, the cool new briefs are less £1m budget+Tarsem+vague fame and more a £250,000 budget+the chance to do a multichannel online campaign your mates will never see. So it’s not so much that awards have lost their own shine, because it was never about that. It was always about the benefits the awards would bring. Now they are less, the prestige of awards is less, so it’s lucky for Cannes et al that holding companies have started caring more about them. That means the cash continues to flow in even though the rewards have long since been reduced to the point where their supposed stimulation has little effect on improved creativity.
D&AD: cash stimulation, a bit of pointless congratulation.
(PS: I’m now on holiday for a couple of weeks, so posting may be sporadic. I have housesitters, though, so don’t bother trying any burglary stuff.)