When judging something (anything, really, but let’s stick to ads), one of the overwhelming criteria to apply is that of difficulty.
People rarely mention this explicitly, but often it can win out over originality and craft.
Take this winner of a Gold at D&AD for example:
As an idea it’s pretty blah, but blow me down if they haven’t gone and changed the backs of coins. Can you imagine how difficult that is? It must be like trying to get a somersault out of Steven Hawking.
And what about Millions? As impressive as the idea is, what really gets you doffing your cap is the the fact that they got Samsung to donate millions of phones, Verizon to give the text and talk time and the NY Dept. of Education to OK the whole thing.
It’s also the reason why people say things like ‘for a shitty price ad, it’s amazing’. Doing something really good on a crappy brief is much tougher than doing the next Nike ad (I’m not saying good Nike ads are easy, but the budget, brand personality and heritage do give the work on that account a bit of a head start), so it’s the difficulty we’re rewarding, not just the ad itself.
Of course, the difficulty is often linked to the execution.
Guinness Surfer, for example, is jaw-dropping because none of us has any idea how to make that happen, even ten years on. It combines enormous difficulty with a perfect idea and perfect craft.
I think this is why the highly lauded conventional poster is rarer these days. It has to be a solar panel that powers a village, or a version of the National Gallery that’s plastered to the walls of Soho (fancy negotiating the permission for that, anyone?).
The difficulty bar is being raised on a regular basis, so if you want to win something, make sure it’s a really good idea that’s well executed, but also make sure it looks like a bit of an arse to pull off.