All that glitters isn’t always all that

Max McKeon was associate CD at Saatchi and Saatchi NY on the award-winning 'It's a Tide ad', and is now incoming CD at Colenso BBDO NZ. In this crossposting from Gabberish, he argues awards aren't the only sign of greatness.

I once worked on a case study at an agency that wasn’t for the agency. It wasn’t even for an ad. It was for a client.

More precisely, it was for a client’s client whose construction business built commercial building foundations. This company’s claim to fame was to have driven X many pylon foundations into the earth in X number of days (apparently an impressive feat).

It was backed up with time-lapse photography of the work and superimposed stats; a format all too familiar. It was for their industry awards.

Every industry has awards. We in advertising like to compare ourselves to the more illustrious ones – like film, wine and journalism – but there are others: real estate agents, under 8s badminton, and, yes, even commercial building foundations.

We love our work and it’s great to have the best of it collected, curated and collated neatly together in one place where we can all see what the industry’s biggest names admire.

It helps us reset a little knowing that somewhere out there some lucky bastard is having their hard work translate into something pure.

It’s inspiring to see great creativity, and even more inspiring to see that it can actually make it out into the real world. But maybe, just maybe, there is too much of an onus on the shiny faux precious metal.

The best creatives I’ve ever worked with have not always been the most awarded. There’s been a rough correlation, but far from a perfect one. Awards are a cheat-sheet used by the industry to gauge creative worth.

It’s a filter that says a creative and their work comes pre-judged by others, and that maybe that evaluation is enough.

But that feels lazy.

Any ECD worth his or her mustard (and worth working for) should be able to tell great work and great potential, even if it was never made into an case study, or if it’s just spec work in a student portfolio. After all, that’s their job.

Winning awards takes a lot of work. A lot of work. But also luck and timing. And, for the most part, many of us can really only control one of these three, play the numbers, be prolific with awesome shit, and hope for the best.

Don’t get me wrong, awards are great, but there is greatness outside of awards. So don’t let them be the only measure. After all, to most people, we are just driving poles into the ground in record time.

Max McKeon is incoming creative director at Colenso BBDO NZ. This piece was first published on gabberish.com


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