David Reviews

 It's the work, stupid.

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: IT'S THE WORK, STUPID.
1 October 2018

Keen-eyed readers may have noticed a change at the head of David Reviews last week when we replaced our long-standing 'biting the hand that feeds us' motto with a new message: 'it's the work, stupid'.

It warrants an explanation.

Earlier this month, we made the difficult decision to end our monthly CraftWorks event. This was because it was losing money.

Throughout the existence of CraftWorks, we were continually told how great it was. Many of those who attended told us that they came away feeling inspired by the work they'd seen and the stories they'd heard. Many of those who participated came off the stage talking like evangelists about the format and the style of the event. But, despite their adrenaline-fuelled zeal for it, most never returned.

Even when the room was full, it was often because we'd issued an extraordinary number of complimentary tickets... it was the only way to get people in. This despite a cost of only 20 per seat.

CraftWorks' failure breaks our hearts but you have to own your mistakes and at DAVID, we're clear that its demise is our fault.

There are literally tens of thousands of people working in advertising in Central London and yet we were unable to persuade enough of them to come along.

It isn't really possible to know why but - in simple terms - it must have been because the event wasn't what the industry wanted.

So what does it want? Which events do draw a decent crowd? The simple answer is... awards.

From remarkably early on in our existence, DAVID was urged to create an awards night. We resisted and we will always do so. This is for a number of reasons.

First, it's hard to understand the mindset of anyone who looks at the landscape of British advertising and concludes that it needs another set of awards. There are so many already that it's literally hard to count them all... upwards of sixteen, according to our estimate - and we may have forgotten some. That would be too many even if they were good. And they're not.

Second, the business model for awards is deeply cynical. Charging people a considerable fee to enter the awards, a further sum to attend, and - in some cases - asking them to pay even more money for a trophy they've 'won', is an unconscionable exploitation of the weird need for affirmation of the people who work in this business.

Third, they don't matter. You think they do but they don't. Over the past two weeks, we've been conducting an experiment. On the basis that it's the most highly revered award in advertising, we've asked a cross-section of people to name the winner of this year's Film Grand Prix at Cannes. Not a single person has answered correctly. Most have conceded that they have no idea.

Fourth, the process used to decide which work should be rewarded is highly flawed. Accusations of political decision-making are rife. These are not the excuses of those who fail to win, they are the complaints of those who have been part of a jury.

Fifth, the existence of so many awards is a crazy distraction. The question we're asked at DAVID more than any other concerns the current state of busyness. In the never ending search for an explanation of a quiet phase, all kinds of patterns are identified.

It rarely appears to occur to anyone that it might be because companies waste so much of their energy trying to win meaningless prizes, that they stall their own momentum.

Other forms of recognition waste resources too. Several major agencies are obsessed with winning 'Campaign's Agency of the Year'. Why?

Is it because they so value the collective wisdom of the 'journalists' who work there? It's not even possible to type that question without laughing. Of course it isn't. The winning and losing agencies are well aware that Campaign's staff aren't qualified to judge their businesses and yet they choose to attach extraordinary importance to the decision they make.

Each year, the same magazine produces a special edition which gives each agency a School Report score.

Arguably, it's a bit of fun. It certainly ought to be. But it's not treated that way... most agencies devote an extraordinary amount of resources into trying to persuade Campaign to elevate their score. The mood in an agency on the back of a bad score has been described as 'dire' and PR companies are routinely sacked if the agency doesn't get what they feel they deserve.

The justification, of course, is that clients pay attention to such things and a bad School Report can prove costly. We spoke to some clients about this and the replies ranged from 'we don't read Campaign' to 'I've never seen that issue' to 'people don't take that seriously, do they?' None of the clients we spoke to considers the School Report important.

The final reason why we've never introduced awards is probably the most important. We believe in your ability to assess work yourselves. That may sound odd in light of our ratings system and the reviews we write but hear us out.

Whenever we've been asked, we have always urged our audience to make up their own minds. That's why the write-ups sit alongside the work itself. You decide. You don't need to see how many stars we gave it to decide whether or not it's any good. Our perspective is as flawed as anyone else's, and our reviews exist to amuse and provoke thought.

One industry figure complained to me a couple of years ago that we're encouraging mediocrity by being too generous with our stars. He had decided - without asking - that when we give five stars that we're saying that a piece of work is perfect. That's not our criteria, as it happens. But there was nothing to stop him or anyone else from making up their own mind about the work... because it's always there to be watched alongside our review. Always.

Because it's the work, stupid.

You don't need awards to decide what's good either. They're meaningless, and - in fact - they encourage a tendency (of which we've been part - mea culpa) to lionise work which looks and feels the part, regardless of its effectiveness.

This is a problem for the industry. One of the reasons why clients are wary of the ways of advertising agencies is a belief that some of the people who work in them have their own agenda... that they're more interested in peer recognition than creating a piece of work that fulfils the brand's needs.

The reason they think this is because it's true. And the reason it's true is largely because of awards.

It's worth noting that it wasn't always thus. Awards used to have a very important purpose. Not the rewarding of great advertising but the dissemination of it. That part of their function was rendered unnecessary by the advent of the internet and - specifically - sites like ours.

This helps to explain why so little attention is shown to the work when it's displayed on the big screen at an awards do. Everyone has already seen it.

As this was once such an important dimension of an awards show, you might expect that the industry might have decided it doesn't need so many of the blasted things. But actually there are more each year. It's madness.

So, what can we do about it? Precious little, in all likelihood but we have reached a breaking point and DAVID REVIEWS will no longer provide any coverage of advertising awards. Nothing. Nada. We're done with them.

They're shit and you know they are.

Instead, we're going to concentrate our coverage of events on those we consider worthwhile. In the next week or so, we will be adding a new element to the main menu called 'Events' and it will keep you updated about:


1. Straight 8



This event - established by Ed Sayers in 1999 - has proven to be an incredibly fertile crucible of creativity. Ed has kept it going through thick and thin, frequently losing money in doing so. He does it because he loves it... but we'd be delighted if, as it approaches its twentieth anniversary, its growing fame finally began to deliver to Ed and his team the financial reward they so richly deserve.


2. Homespun Yarns



This competition created by Stitch Editing is currently in its fifth incarnation. We cannot wait to see what this year's entrants have done with the theme 'If'. They too have run this competition for the love of it, and every decision they've made has ensured the event's integrity. They are its moral guardians and they deserve so much appreciation for the amazing opportunity they've provided to young filmmakers.


3. ADCAN



On October 18th - the exact same night as the Homespun Yarns are being unveiled - a similar show will take place in Los Angeles, where the films made specially for the charities chosen by ADCAN for the 2018 show will be screened for the first time. Again, Dan Heighes, Deborah Caswell and the others behind ADCAN deserve so much praise for sustaining an event which provides opportunities to unsigned directors as well as providing free work for charities to broadcast.




Each of these events has been created from a purity of purpose and with genuine creativity at their heart. They nurture new talent and encourage people to make the most of their talent without the slightest hint of a cynical agenda.

We salute the people behind these ventures and are proud to associate ourselves with them.

You can join us in eschewing advertising awards and supporting these events instead... if you're brave enough. And if there's one thing you claim to be at all your bloody websites, it's brave!

In the Hans Christian Andersen story 'The Emperor's New Clothes' - which gave the world one of its most powerful metaphors - everyone knew that the emperor was naked but it took the naivety of a child to point it out and force everyone to stop pretending.

The world of advertising is a nudist beach with an endless parade of naked emperors marching up and down it. Point and giggle, my friends, they've got nothing on.

It's the work, stupid... and the wisest among you know that it always was.

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David Reviews - Lovely Lenzie Ltd, Woodbourne House, Seven Sisters, Lenzie, G66 3AW. Telephone: +44 141 776 7766. Editor: Jason Stone.