The question above first arose when reading a ranking of the top awarded campaigns from last year. Just 7% of the award-winning work had a female creative director behind it.
I am clearly not female. I’m not a fan of tokenism. But I find it hard to believe that just 7% of female creative directors in this wide and vibrant industry produce outstanding work.
But that got me thinking. If they’re being overlooked, does the industry really recognise the work that works?
Take a look at recent campaigns which have won awards. Pick almost any award set—this isn’t about singling any specific set of honours out.
Look closely, and a formulaic nature quickly emerges from many submissions. Clever, yes. Creative, with a big C, certainly. However, like it or lump it, across the board, longstanding awards categories tend to favour short-term work with clearly ringfenced starts and stops.
This largely ignores the greater thematic shift currently at play: towards purpose-led campaigns that nudge audiences over longer time periods. If you’re paying attention, strategies are emerging that centre on rooting brands in specific cultures rather than 'the big idea'.
This doesn’t follow the well-trodden template of what the industry tends to lionise as ‘cool’ work. Measuring true impact has become a very different beast than it was 10 or even five years ago. It's much harder to make an impact on the zeitgeist than it is to be ‘cool’.
In many ways, campaigns like the Moldy Whopper—largely feted on release, then criticised as pure ‘award bait’—may be distracting from the work that truly matters.
We have one client who has told us recently that they are not interested in winning awards. They see them as being purely for the agencies.
Instead, they want to create campaigns that truly move people. If the general direction of travel is away from splashy, standalone work and towards driving long-term change for brands, it is time to reframe what is celebrated as ‘great’ work. The kind that will be memorable in 20 years’ time. Moreover, the people delivering truly cool work don’t care about awards that much.
Look at Gucci’s work with TikTok, or Balenciaga shipping out cracked, personalised iPhones. Hardworking teams know how to capture the essence of their brand’s DNA and consistently communicate that to audiences. Create intrigue and expectation. Don’t fit neatly into awards categories. True innovation seldom does. It creates its own.
Others are looking beyond the typical suite of ‘creative’ awards to shine. Riot Games recently won a Grand Clio, not looking for advertising recognition but instead in entertainment. Nike developed an entirely new publishing format through creative use of Instagram which would never stand out on the Croisette, but has delivered a disproportionate impact to the athletics giant’s channel business.
These perspectives don’t suit everyone. For every forward-thinking CMO or marketing director who wants to truly innovate there is always one who wants the silverware.
But, perhaps there should be more latitude in awards structures to reflect all the amazing ongoing work that is transforming how people interact with brands and how we should be assessing and measuring success.
Cynics may dismiss this approach as sour grapes. Far from it. Acknowledge that what is really moving the needle may no longer sit nicely in established awards boxes. The story of creativity is one of constant evolution.
When it comes to true innovation of thinking, we’re already on the cusp of advertising that feels more like gaming when it comes to interaction and audience engagement. We're seeing narratives that depart from the traditional media plan and therefore typical award categories. We're seeing IP-driven work that allows agencies to produce products and not just act as agents for their clients.
Essentially, shaping creative companies, not creative agencies.
If the parameters of what signifies ‘good’ don’t shift too, the embedded thinking will remain equally boxed in—and unable to seize new opportunities.
Sascha Kuntze is chief creative officer at BBH Singapore.