James Thompson
Oct 6, 2017

Leo's Oscar and why I hope the industry sticks with awards

Work that wins acts as an example to the rest of the industry, writes Diageo's James Thompson.

Leonardo Di Caprio and the Oscar he won for 'The Revenant'
Leonardo Di Caprio and the Oscar he won for 'The Revenant'

Do you remember Leonardo Di Caprio's acceptance speech for his leading role in The Revenant at the Oscars a couple of years ago? There was a man at the top of his game, many great achievements behind him and probably many still to come, someone comfortable in his own skin and in his own talent, proud but still humble in the occasion, and with plenty of fire and opinion still in his belly.

Was it luck that Leo (as I like to pretend to call him) won it for The Revenant rather than The Wolf of Wall Street, Inception or, my personal favourite, Shutter Island? Maybe. Probably not. Would all of us have agreed that this performance was significantly better than those of Matt Damon or Eddie Redmayne, two of the competitors for the gong that year? Maybe not.

But whatever one's individual view, who could begrudge the recognition by his peers of an excellent piece of work that could inspire other actors and filmmakers to raise their own game? And which of us, secretly or otherwise, would not love the opportunity to receive similar acknowledgement from our own peers?

Well, perhaps not all of us. The Publicis network has already decided to give Cannes a swerve this time around. WPP is reported to be removing its participation from some festivals and also to be considering its options around the Riviera revelry itself. Without one of the industry's giants, the awards still feel valid - but without both?

James Thompson

You can understand the thinking. Some of the smaller events could well be a distraction for agencies, sucking up time and effort for the prospect of winning something that clients have either never heard of or don't care about. Wouldn't you rather your agency's top brass were out winning business or helping make the work better than making keynote speeches to half-empty four-star hotel ballrooms?

And what about the big events? Isn't it all a bit of a crap shoot, success all too dependent upon the eloquent advocacy of some adversary behind the closed doors of the jury room? Why submit yourself and your team's work, at some expense, to what can seem the meritocratic equivalent of a roulette wheel?

But personally I hope the networks will reconsider, for the good of the industry even if they're not persuaded by self-interest. Creative marketing risks getting a bad name these days. It is fashionable in some circles to opine that the algorithm is king, that recognition and repetition are princes regent, and that creativity can be cheerfully sacrificed at the high altar of programmatic.

Yet we know, from Peter Field's IPA study of the effectiveness of award-winning campaigns, that awarded (i.e. creative) work is several times more successful at driving sales than non-awarded work.

So work that wins awards, at least at the prestigious festivals, acts as an example to the rest of the industry. It can show the power of truly creative work, and inspire others to persevere through the spirit-sapping mode du jour that threatens to commoditise the industry.

Excellence can take many forms, but when it is too shy to show its face how can it be more than a relatively solitary pursuit? Di Caprio's win was at least as significant to the rest of the industry as it was to himself. He concluded his speech: "I do not take tonight for granted." Let's hope the best in our own world don't take their places for granted, and see a way to demonstrating their leadership again.

James Thompson is chief marketing and innovation officer for Diageo North America. 

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