Just last week, after evaluating nearly 3,700 entries from 24 countries, 55 distinguished international judges decided on a winner. The world’s best, by a nose, was Michael Spycher.
Yes, everyone agreed that this Swiss perfectionist was the cream of the crop.
For his exceptional Gruyere cheese was better than every blue, brie and gorgonzola on the planet.
If you are anything like halloumi (and puns are your thing) then you could say this really was quite some feta. You could say he was better than every edam other producer on earth. And hard cheese to the rest of the wannabes who didn’t camembert a mention.
But this begs the question – is everyone except Michael Spycher schizer?
Tellingly, Michael won the same competition in 2008. But it was for the same cheese.
So, in adland, we’d be accusing him of churning up the same old ideas over and over again.
But really, does the fact that his cheese got 98.81 out of 100 mean everyone else should give up?
And are competitions and awards the best way to sort out who is best?
The Eurovision Song Contest is possibly a good case in point. Does winning that really mean you are a musician of note?
Is Loreen a patch on Gaga? Is Zelmerlow really up there with Springsteen?
In 2016, Dami Im from Australia won the jury vote in the final, but Ukrainian singer-songwriter Jamala took the prize because the public related more to her song about the deportation of Crimean Tatars in 1944 by Stalin than Dami’s song about modern-day internet isolationism. Go figure – because that is a sentence I never thought I would write.
But frankly, the Eurovision Song Contest is probably like the Eurobest of adland. Does anyone really care if you win? Does it make you any good?
And I could have chosen over twenty other shows to denigrate.
The peculiar side-effect of there being so many awards to win around the world is that every creative can say they are “award-winning”.
In fact, if you are in advertising and have not won a single thing, then oddly you could now argue you are exceptional.
But if everyone’s got an award, how do you know if you are any good?
Tradition says you’re only as good as your latest piece of work. Which may or may not be true. But let’s run with it.
Does your latest piece of work give you the reassurance you need to say, “I’m actually quite good at what I do.”
Who are you to say?
If your significant other turns to you just after your latest ad runs on TV and says, “Well, I liked it,” does that mean your opinion is justified?
If your dog wags its tail as your ad plays, does that count for something?
If your Mum rings you to say she likes your latest ad – or at least pretends she understands it – is that enough?
If @gorbychef44 tweets to say they don’t normally comment on such things, but that ad was “fire”, does that mean it’s any good?
If a mate tells you down the pub they think it’s funny, how about that? What if someone you don’t know laughs at it down the pub or in the cinema?
If your client emails all those involved in one of those big cc group emails and says head office – or global HQ – have rated it highly, does that answer your question?
If your colleagues at work say they like it, are you starting to feel like maybe?
If you get 4 positive comments on the blog and no negatives, is that the modern equivalent of high praise, or was it a busy workday and the really judgemental judges missed their chance to say it and you are a pile of shite.
If your CD tells you it’s good, is that enough?
If a CD from another agency emails to say they like it, are you starting to feel like maybe you must be doing something right?
If a CD from another agency offers you a job because of it, how about then?
If someone who you look up to writes about it in an article as something that they noticed, or picks it for their pick of the week? Or pick of the month?
Or actually does it need to win an award?
Do you need to win an award to feel you are any good?
And given my previous comments about there being too many of the damned things, I would argue it depends on the award. It matters who is judging. It matters how they’re judging.
If the reason award shows exist is to inspire us to be better, then they themselves need to be set up to set the standard, not simply reward those who are cashed-up or self-serving enough to enter.
The trouble with saying the person who has won the most awards is the most creative is that it skews towards those with money to burn on entries, rather than those who are putting everything they have into creating something new.
And that is my beef with Warc. It skews towards quantity not quality. And forces agencies to waste inordinate amounts of money entering (in fact, over-entering) certain award schemes, when they should be investing in new, more diverse creative talent.
So, is there a solution?
To really know if you are any good or not, you need to have a standard to assess yourself with.
And for me, that standard is D&AD.
(I should point out, I am on the global advisory board of this organisation. But in all honesty, that’s because I support it – rather than it supports me).
D&AD is still the only global honour that has a set of distinct standards to be judged by.
Something is either good enough to be of a wood, graphite, yellow or black pencil standard or not.
The juries don’t get to say anything other than yes or no. And that means some years there are no winners.
This is not a show where someone gets a Grand Prix, and a certain percentage get gold, silver and bronze. Regardless of the year or the quality of the work.
This is a show where you only win something if it reaches or surpasses a certain quality threshold. (Interestingly, AWARD is copying this approach, just as it copied its pencils.)
But what kind of work wins at D&AD?
Work which breaks new ground. Which fights against mediocrity. Which finds new ways to solve real world problems.
Work which turns organisations into positive influencers rather than drains on resources.
Work which recognises and champions diversity, which elevates what we all feel we are capable of.
Work which creates mutually beneficial outcomes – for the brand, the audience, culture, society and the environment.
Work which will sit on the right side of history.
Work which stimulates and inspires positive, ethical change.
Yep, the work that wins at D&AD sets the standard for our entire industry. Clients, agencies and creatives alike. Craftspeople and strategists. Designers and artists. Manufacturers and producers.
It rewards good work. And rewards work that does good.
So if you really want to know if you or your idea is any good, I’d recommend putting it up against the world’s best.
It may not make you the big cheese. Or indeed any gouda.
But at the very least, it will give you something to aim for. And judge yourself against.