The Grey Zone

Like a snowflake that has drifted unwisely into the pucker of John Prescott’s anus, advertising is somewhat ephemeral.

People dismiss news as ‘tomorrow’s fish and chip paper’. Well, if that’s the case, most advertising can only dream of such longevity.

Although I can’t recall anyone mentioning this, I think that state of affairs explains some of the appeal of awards: if successful, your ad will live, in advertising terms, forever. In particular, the ones that result in some kind of annual (D&AD, The One Show etc.) will last as long as the book, which will be kept for all time in the offices of all right-thinking creatives. Of added benefit is the fact that we are taught from a very early age to respect books, particularly those which are big and hard.

However, the ads that feature in such publications are the world’s best 0.000000000000000038445206%. That means that the other 99.etc% of the industry’s product might as well not have existed.

Yes, I am aware that there are many perfectly valid ads that do not get into award books, but the chances of them being remembered for longer than a couple of weeks are minuscule.

So almost all of what we do exists in what I am about to name The Grey Zone.

Whether 3/10 or 8.5/10 your work will resound through the ages like the whisper of an asthmatic newt, and that might make you wonder whether or not it matters which of those marks it achieves.

The answer, I’m afraid, is: not really.

There are many reasons why the arguments and late nights that gets your ad from 5/10 to 6/10 (a 20% improvement) could cause more harm than good: you could piss off the kind of people who might want to sack you; you might neglect your home life to the extent that it causes irreparable damage; your work might not improve the response level of the ad, so you might miss the award books and the chance to say ‘I know it’s shit but it increased sales by 8.6%’, and at the end of the day 6/10 is also shit anyway.

So there’s not a lot of difference between ads in the Grey Zone, not matter where in the Zone they reside. And where they reside, without the benefit of an award jury’s perfect, indisputable verdict, is an entirely subjective evaluation.

I’m not saying that one shouldn’t try to do the best ads one can, but it might be a good idea to choose your battles and wait for the ones that really matter, otherwise you might just annoy people and use up valuable favours for no good reason.