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‘Stop the madness’: DDB global creative chief says agency is pulling back from award shows

One of the world’s biggest ad agencies DDB has announced it is scaling back involvement in award shows, with its lead global creative Amir Kassaei saying the industry is “willing to sacrifice our integrity” over them.

Amir Kassaei at Mumbrella 360

Amir Kassaei at Mumbrella 360

Kassaei made the announcement in a column published in UK trade mag Campaign overnight titled ‘The end of false recognition’, saying the agency globally would be entering less work to shows, although he did not mention any by name.

In Asia and Australia DDB has been at the centre of allegations of scam – work created to win awards – in recent years, while the Cannes Lions has come under scrutiny for awarding campaigns with dubious credentials and failing to follow up on its own entry rules.

The announcement appears to signal a change of heart from Kassaei, who said during his keynote address at Mumbrella360 in 2014: “It is our responsibility to look for ideas that might not be realistic at the moment. But the majority of the work should be solving real problems with genuine ideas.”

“At Cannes, there are winners with real work for real clients. But the majority of winners are not real,” he added.

In today’s column Kassaei says: “We have to stop the madness. Not only by talking about it, but by also doing something against it. So we at DDB will not play this mad game. We will be coming up with a plan to divest ourselves from the madness. We at DDB want to be recognized for the real work that we do for our real clients and their real problems, and if, on top of that, we get some applause from the industry for it, we’ll be happy.”

At Mumbrella360 Kassaei did flag “prototype” work which was winning awards as an issue the industry had to tackle, a theme he revisits in the column.

He writes: “You will see less work from DDB at some of the shows. And maybe they won’t win much against the phony prototypes. So what? We want to be the best and most influential company in our industry, not the most awarded. We may be saying goodbye to the made-up empty titles like Agency of the Year, Network of the Year or whatever. But when we do receive these recognitions, you can be sure it is only because we were the best with the best work and not because we were the network with the most prototypes or who spent the most money.”

However, at Mumbrella 360, Kassaei referred at the end of his talk to DDB Singapore’s app for the visually impaired, which was a prototype. He claimed then the app had been such a success that the idea had been exported to Austria, although Mumbrella checked with StarHub and this proved not to be true.

In recent years, DDB’s London shop Adam&Eve DDB has won a host of awards at major shows, including the Agency of the Year award at Cannes Lions in 2014.

In 2014 Mumbrella’s Australian site discovered a Cannes Lions-winning print ad for McDonald’s from DDB Sydney ran just once in the Rouse Hill Times, the cheapest newspaper available, on the deadline day to enter work into the awards.

Selley's work

DDB Singapore’s work for Selley’s

And in Singapore the previous year, Mumbrella Asia reported that a campaign for Selleys Supa Glue, which won an award at Cannes, was entered without the client’s knowledge, in contravention of the rules. The print ad ran once in a local newspaper.

But the organisers of the Cannes Lions backed the work and the awards stood. Chairman Terry Savage has likened the run-once work to Super Bowl ads.

DDB Sydney was also embroiled in scam accusations in 2007 when ads ran in a small format in another local newspaper The Manly Daily to qualify for entry.

Last year, WPP agency VML was allowed to withdraw an entry which had been shortlisted by Cannes jurors called Blackspot Beacons, after Mumbrella revealed client Transport for NSW had not signed off on the entry. 

However Cannes organisers refused to follow up on their own rules and disqualify the agency from the competition.

In 2013, John Zeigler, the long-time regional boss of DDB, who recently retired, told Mumbrella that the network planned to cut back on the amount spent on awards by 30 per cent for that year.

“Our philosophy is not to produce one piece of work that wins in multiple countries. We don’t want to play that sort of awards game,” he told Mumbrella.

“We want to improve the quality of creative work in all markets and keep on winning awards – just with fewer entries,” he said.

Alex Hayes

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