When I was a copywriting student, we were told that award shows and the advertising annuals that housed the winners were the aspiration of every designer and copywriter. Whenever we were stuck in a creative rut, clumsily fumbling along for a fresh new idea, our teachers would state religiously: “Read the annuals.” Then we would show our half-baked portfolios to creative directors in the industry and they would say “read the annuals.” One of our school teachers said that when you look at award shows, it works like osmosis: you observe great ads and then you begin to create great ads. In a way he was right. The more you surround yourself with higher level thinking, the more you bring your own mind to that level of thinking. The annuals and award shows are filled with interesting pieces that can inspire, humble or motivate any designer.
However, these award shows do have their downsides. The other day I bumped into an old friend who’s currently working at a design firm. I asked how it was going and very quickly it became clear just how exhausted he was. He was working a lot of overtime, both during the week and on weekends because his firm is hell bent on picking up some awards. He said he likes that his company aims high and as a result they do produce better work. Still, I have to wonder at what cost. Dangling the award show carrot in front of your designers while wringing every last drop of their creative juices seems like a problematic contradiction. Every creative person needs a break or a time of recuperation if they are expected to produce great work, but when great work is so demanding designers sometimes forego that recuperation.
Aside from the dwindling creativity and mounting pressure that many designers face, another problem with such award shows lies in the kind of work that is sometimes produced. Many designers lose sight of the true goal of design and ads, which is that they must speak to the consumers. Instead, the audience becomes award show judges. With these award shows, a kind of subculture of advertising has been created. It is home to many designs and ads that don’t speak to consumers. Many consumers don’t even understand these award-winning ads. In this case, has the objective been achieved? No. Instead, we have created a new level of advertising that excuses irrelevant pieces which don’t speak to the benefit of products, but are simply pretty and abstract. We become like children, clutching onto our favourite painting even though nobody else can tell it’s supposed to be a butterfly. If consumers don’t like or understand the message but the ad industry is slapping you on the back for your great work, you have to stop and wonder what your true motivations are.
Good design should not be akin to some inside joke between you, your design firm and the award show judges. Many designers forget this fact. When we remember who we’re really making ads for, we can make the work even better. Because when you combine the high standards and achievement of award shows with the need to create a unified and relevant message for consumers, the result will be a fantastic piece that is not missing any important elements. All criteria of beauty, achievement and relevance will be fulfilled. You will have a more complete piece of work that speaks to more than just the judges. You will have a piece that speaks to everyone universally, in a fresh and fundamental way.
Hi, I'm Ian T. I'm a York grad and a copywriter for Eden Advertising. I'm the master of procrastinating. I like to use parentheses (sometimes). I love the LCBO because wine makes me happy. I don't blog, I capture moments in time.