3 Jul 2016

Are modern 'Mad Men' too clever for their own good?

From Mediawatch, 9:12 am on 3 July 2016

New Zealand's ad-makers have won top global prizes and the campaigns they create are getting more and more elaborate. But are they getting too clever for their own good?

Cannes is best known for its film festival and the prestigious Palme d'Or prize, but each summer it also hosts the Oscars of advertising: the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

In recent years, creative Kiwis have picked up so many 'Lion' awards the media industry website Stop Press said this week it was time to stop talking about them "punching above their weight".

Top of the pile this year were the winners of two titanium Lion awards. The Y&R agency won one for a campaign encouraging McDonalds and Burger King to bury the hatchet for world peace:

Colenso won the other top prize for promoting “Brewtroleum” - petrol made from beer waste:

Both were certainly clever, but you could only buy 'brewtroleum" for a short time last year and the McDonalds / Burger King truce was a one-week stunt.


The main winner this year at New Zealand's main advertising competition, the Axis Awards, went to a Saatchi & Saatchi ad for something not actually on the market yet - an electronic moneybox for kids:

Some in adland protested that "ad agency pipe dreams" were being rewarded and "none of it is real from a customer's point of view".

Should award-winning ads promote products we can actually buy or use? 

Traditionally, a commercial client engages an ad agency to promote its products. But advertising 'creatives' often dream up ideas and then go looking for a client. Effectively, they're marketing their own creativity to the clients.

Vaughn Davis runs an ad agency in Auckland and has been a judge at the Cannes Lions festival.

"Its a bit like the movie industry. Art house triumphs of creativity win awards but Independence Day: Resurgence makes all the money. It doesn't have to be about making people rush out and buy things. It can be a great idea for a great idea's sake," he  told Mediawatch.

Vaughn Davis says some ads are run as a pretext for entry into a competition and for some "bonuses are linked to the number of awards they win".

Everyone wants awards

In the ad business, they call them "scams" - adverts that no client ever commissioned or paid for, created simply to win awards or raise profile.

"We all know why it exists. There’s a hunger among creative teams to do great work. And agencies want to win awards, But quite often, there’s a lack of desire among clients to buy it. 'Scam' rears its head to fill the void," Singapore-based executive Andy Greenaway recently told ad industry website The Drum

At the Cannes Lions festival last weekend, an extreme example came to light when it won an award.

Scummy scamming?

The Singapore branch of a multi-national agency claimed its ‘I Sea’ app could help smartphone users monitor the Mediterranean for boats carrying refugees. The 'client' was a rescue outfit called Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), based in Malta, which could respond and save lives. But it didn't work.

According to reports, people who downloaded the app all got the same image of the sea, and weather information that wasn’t real. Apple quickly pulled I-Sea from its app store, citing “false information and features”. MOAS disowned the project.


Using refugees at sea to win a career-enhancing gong on the Cote D’Azur is pretty low, but this is a business which rewards concepts that are creative but not always effective.


Vaughn Davis told Mediawatch this one was "bloody evil" but award-winning work does serves a purpose. 


He compares it to catwalk fashion.

"You see these things and think: 'Oh my god. Who would ever wear that?' No-one would, apart from Lady Gaga," says Vaughn Davis. "But in two years' time, you might see an echo of it in a design on sale at Glassons, or the Warehouse or Farmers."

"Good ideas happen at the fringes of the ad industry. Some get awarded and applauded and then filter down, and if some can be a bit shocking or interesting, that's good. They make life better".