Awards fakery, fruit abuse, the joy of A3...and 'Purple Robin'

08 Oct 2018  |  Dominic Mills 
Awards fakery, fruit abuse, the joy of A3...and 'Purple Robin'

Yes, this is one of those columns; a selection of stuff that has caught my eye, got me irritated and made me smile. Here we go...


Fake it till you make it is good advice...but not for awards

We’re all aware of that adage about faking it till you make it. Most of us have practised it at one time or another, and I blush to think of my own history of faking it and not always making it.

There’s even a TED talk about it and articles in learned titles like Psychology Today.

Indeed, some might say the ad industry is built on this trick, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

But there are limits, and awards is where the barrier is.

As awards season gets underway, and across town agency folk beaver away at putting the best possible spin on their efforts, I bring this cautionary tale from Australia (hat tip to my source on this; I owe you a drink). It dates back nine months, but is no less valid for that.

This is the story of Atomic 212, which bills itself as a ‘creative media agency’, and creative it certainly has been. So creative it didn’t just exaggerate its triumphs, but invent them.

Among its fictions: winning pitches that never even took place; naming other agencies as ‘losers’ in these fictitious pitches; claiming project work outsourced to it by other agencies (how the hell does that even work?) as ‘all-media’ contracts with the client; inflated billings; submitting work done by other agencies as its own; and a revenue increase of 1,000% a year - later dismissed as a typo, hah hah.

It’s the Lance Armstrong of the ad industry.

Confidence tricksters know that the bigger the lie the more likely you are to get away with it, but it takes some nerve to claim your victories include such high-profile names as Nike, Coles (the equivalent of Tesco), Westpac (like Lloyds Bank) and Alibaba.

You can read the full story in this terrific piece of journalism by Steve Jones of Mumbrella here.

Some of this activity paid off. Atomic won no less than five prizes in one Agency of the Year set of awards.

You wonder how this could happen. We’ve all seen it in creative awards, especially global ones where work is tweaked (by removing or shrinking the logo), run without the client’s permission or for an invented client. Most of this malpractice has been eliminated now, but you can understand how judges wouldn’t necessarily know.

But in media or Agency of the Year awards, it’s different. You’re dealing with hard numbers or pitches. At least one of the judges should know.

So it seems to me that, in this case, the judges who gave Atomic a prize were either ignorant, time pressed or, so bored by reading dozens of entries, they’d fallen asleep at the wheel. Or second-rate. There are awards schemes like that.

But, excuses or not, the judges who handed Atomic its prizes should be squirming in their seats. They’ve let themselves down, as well as the industry.

It doesn’t happen here, from what I know. The one thing you can say about UK schemes is that the judges are uniformly of a high standard and pin sharp. You cannot pull the wool over their eyes.

And in my experience of awards entries, the truth will always out. And it’s a better story.

Fruit abuse is an advertising crime

If the story about the ASA’s ban last week of a Costa radio ad featuring avocados passed you by, you’ve missed a treat.

Costa’s crime, if I can put it this way, is for fruit abuse or for bringing avocados into disrepute. The vast total of two people complained, one no doubt from the Society for the Protection of Avocados. I know we live in a victim culture, but I think avocados can look after themselves.

Here’s the script: “Oh, there’s a great deal on ripen-at-home avocados. Sure, they’ll be as hard as rock for the first 18 days, three hours and 20 minutes. Then they’ll be ready to eat for about 10 minutes, then they’ll go off. For a better deal head to Costa Coffee and grab a piping hot bacon roll or egg muffin.”

Yes, I think that’s mildly amusing. But more to the point it’s absolutely true to life. I stick my rock-hard-but-sold-as-ready-to-eat avocados on the hot water tank, only to throw them away when they turn to brown mush.

But here’s the thing. The ad broke section 13.5 of the BCAP code on the grounds that it showed a prejudice against fresh fruit. Who knew such a thing was possible?

In the ASA’s words, although it recognised the ad was light-hearted, “it nevertheless suggested avocados were a poor breakfast choice...and in so doing discouraged the selection of avocados.”

You can read the full judgement here and the relevant part of the code here.

And this is a point worth making. It seems as though the ASA is increasingly part of the government’s social engineering toolbox. We know about its stances on stereotyping (unnecessary, in my view) and HFSS/children (a good thing).

But whether the ASA thinks it is a good thing to climb on board the the social policy bandwagon, or whether it is a pre-emptive defensive manoeuvre to protect itself and the industry I don’t know.

In this case, the code says: “Comparisons between foods must not discourage the selection of options such as fresh fruit and fresh vegetables...advertisements must not discourage good dietary practice.”

So yes, the ad is pretty clearly a breach of the code. No argument there.

But encouraging a positive (good diet) by banning a negative is going about it the wrong way round.

Campaign and the joy of A3

Last week Campaign celebrated its 50th birthday - “was it a party or a wake?”, one cynical adlander asked me - with a bumper issue. Answer: it was a proper party.

If you get a copy - still priced at a biscuit-choking £17.50 - you may notice some hints of a new approach. Actually, that’s a bit unfair. This particular issue is fizzing with wit and flair. I’d have paid £50 quid for it. It’s a reminder of what Campaign can do if and when it sets its mind to it.

One, it’s returned to A3, or as near-classic A3 as you can get these days. Hooray. It’s a fab format, perfectly suited for big pictures of people and work.

Two, that’s exactly what it should be about - people and the work. These are the frames through which all ad industry stories can be told.

Three, it’s dumped the last relaunch, which has lasted just a year.

Four, I’m told (fingers crossed) all that tedious and interminable virtue-signalling content is gone.

TFFT. It’s rediscovered its roots. Not so much new Campaign as new-old Campaign.

Let’s hear it for ‘Purple Robin’

I bow to none in my admiration for Robin Wight, aka ‘Purple Robin’.

His energy and enthusiasm are a joy to behold, his passions undimmed despite the passage of time. Others pass into cynicism. If anything, his love for the industry grows in tandem with his peacock plumage, purple macs and all.

And here he is in the most unlikely place - a video tour of last week’s Conservative Party conference by The Guardian’s Owen Jones.

You can see why Jones and his video crew were, like a heat-seeking missile, drawn to Wight. In an ocean of grey, he radiated colour and fun. You can see him about seven minutes in.

Hmm on second thoughts, maybe it was the other way round. Wight was the heat-seeking missile drawn to Jones and his camera.

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ChrisArnold, Executive CD, Creative Orchestra on 9 Oct 2018
“Sadly award fraud does happen here. Having been a judge on many awards I often question the data and on a few occasions the entry - did it actually match what ran? We all know that one top agency use to report direct all its ads for D&AD and Cannes. When I worked (a good few years ago) at one top agency award fraud was rampant. Ads that never ran. False results. Ads that weren't briefs from clients but made up and than a client was found. Do I thnk it's all honest now? No way! But the do awards really matter anymore? I'm not sure theyr really do in a world that scores yor work in the thousands on line in real time.”
MattHopper, Co-founder, Trisonic on 9 Oct 2018
“Hi Dominic.

As someone who's been creating radio ads for over 20 years, I couldn't help commenting on the Costa 'fruit abuse' story.... It’s quite possible that with one slight copy tweak this ad would still be on the air today.

It strikes me that the client could have avoided the ban and sidestepped the two fun sponges simply by avoiding the great/better deal comparison. Instead of setting them up as "deals" you could merely plant the two alternatives in the listener's mind and let them come to their own conclusion. With careful writing and the right vocal performance you could virtually guarantee the audience would side with the Costa alternative (well, all but two of them anyway!). There's more here in the Trisonic blog from the day the story broke in the national pres: https://trisonic.co.uk/avocadogate-or-how-to-short-circuit-a-sense-of-humour-failure/”

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