Make up a client, fudge a media schedule and jazz up a case study video. It’s awards season

Kit Kat The number of ambitious creative ideas produced by ad agencies has increased noticeably in the last few weeks. Funny that. Cannes is around the corner. Robin Hicks casts a cynical eye over work he feels might have been created with one eye on the trophy cabinet.

I don’t want to take anything away from the brilliance of the ideas I’ve been sent over the last few weeks. Other than to gently suggest that the following batch of ads might – just might – have been created with awards in mind and not the client. Any client.

Feel free to shoot me down in defence of this work. I could be wrong. But a campaign I was sent yesterday was so comical in both concept and claim that I’d be amazed if the client new anything about it.

It prompted me to put together a list of the work I’ve been sent recently that will inevitably be submitted for Cannes in June. Heck, most of this stuff will probably win.

So, here’s that first one.

Ads only visible in the rain. Hmm. People were expected to stop in a slashing Hong Kong monsoon downpour, read the ad on the ground, and scan a QR code with their mobile phone. They then get a discount on a flight to the Philippines to escape the deluge. Online bookings for Cebu Pacific shot up by 37 per cent (a nice believable number), although we’re not told the campaign period in the case study video. According to the Hong Kong Observatory, it only rained for 12 days last month and rarely more than 5mm of rainfall.

The next is interesting. The “Seestagram” for Top Charoen Optical in Thailand. It’s that award-winning combination of a worthy cause and fashionable technology. Wealthy young urbanites can experience the sight problems of elderly people from the rural provinces through special filters. The blurred, distorted images of what the partially blind can barely see are then shared on social media. “Now everyone sees the real power of sharing”, the announcer intones in an unsettling case study video.

The next one is from the same agency,  JWT Connect in Bangkok, for Kit Kat. Curiously both pieces of work came together in the same email. The test here is, would the client actually buy this work? Is it within the brand’s guidelines? I’m not 100 per cent convinced Nestle would go for this.

Kit Kat

I asked the agency if they could send me an example of where this ad ran in the real world. They sent me the following – a fractional ad inserted into a free magazine you’d find in coffee shops in Bangkok. Sorry guys, this “proof” does not ease my suspicions. Take a look at I-S Magazine in Singapore at this time of the year. It’s full of this sort of stuff.

Kit Kat Thailand

Enough of chocolate. Back to serious issues everyone can get behind. Like climate change. But how to dramatise global warming in an exciting, Hollywood way? Rising sea levels, of course! The ‘World under water’ website allows you to see what the world will look like in the not too distant future, like, um, 2100 (when most of us will be dead). Type any location (as long as it’s really well known, like Time Square) into the search box and a beautiful lake of gently rippling water magically appears. “Because at end of the day, we believe if anything should dramatically rise, it should be the level of awareness, not the sea level,” says the case study video for CarbonStory by BBDO Singapore.

I made my point about #CokeDrones a few days ago. But not really from an awards perspective. It appears that Coca-Cola and Ogilvy are gunning for a higher plane, as it were, than a mere advertising award. Nobel, perhaps?

Faber-Castell adSorry to pick on you again, Ogilvy. It’s not intentional. It’s just that I do tend to get rather a lot of this sort of work from your direction. Here’s a beautifully crafted illustration for pencil brand Faber Castell that I would suggest would be more at home in an art gallery than in an ad.

Again, I asked the agency for proof that this masterpiece actually ran in the real world. I was very quickly sent evidence… in the form of a print ad in free commuter newspaper, The Standard.


Now, here’s another societal ill tackled by the genius of advertising. Words can be so hurtful can’t they? So let’s turn words into weapons, literally. Nice idea. Beautifully crafted case study video and a compelling back story. But the client, the Shenyang Center for Psychological Research? I’d be fascinated to hear how the agency bumped into them.

I could go on. This is just some of the stuff that I’ve been sent over the last three weeks. I didn’t mention an app for the deaf that converts sound into digital hand signals. Or the crowd-sourcing campaign that, I was told, reached 10 million people in a city of seven million.

Now, I know awards are important. And my banging on about scam must be very tiresome. Particularly for the poor souls who have to toil all day on accounts that do not fulfill them creatively. And for those who have to do ‘initiative work’ otherwise they’ll find themselves out of a job.

But seriously, adland. How much time and money do you waste on this stuff? Does it really help anyone, even yourselves? Or does it simply reveal an insecure industry desperate for recognition and relevance?

I know that most agencies do it. And as a former scam artist who has worked at some of the big network agencies told me last year, it’s getting even more common.

The big problem with the awards hoax, a chief creative at a big agency told me last week, is that it shows an industry struggling to produce great work for the real clients who pay the bills.

But as conservative and risk-averse agencies complain that their clients are in this part of the world, they can’t blame their paymasters for mediocre work forever.

Perhaps if they stopped producing so much scam, they’d have more energy to focus on the real stuff?

Robin Hicks


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