Creative Focus: Now with added scam

Rachael Micallef
By Rachael Micallef | 28 June 2016
A ‘scam’ award-winning campaign for Panasonic by Saatchi & Saatchi Sydney

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It’s been award show season and as the submissions rolled in so did questions on what is and isn’t legitimate work. As the shit hit the fan (for some), AdNews asked the experts if ‘scam ads’ are really a problem?

It’s just been that time of year again, the Cannes Lions - a hot bed of creativity and inspiration, with 15,000 people descending on Cannes to celebrate the best creative work in the world. Or so it should be. But the rosé was scarcely flowing on the French Riviera before everyone’s favourite four–letter word reared its ugly head: ‘scam’. And it was be followed by the inevitable questions, queries and finger pointing on whether or not work that takes home a trophy is worth the plaque its name is written on. But is it that cut and dried?

To be contrarian, there is an argument that ‘scam’ work is actually a good way for adland to flex its creative muscles. The other question is whether it’s as prevalent as it seems.

AdNews asked the experts if scam ads are the problem we think they are.

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About Luke:

For 20 years Luke worked with media, technology and integrated communications. He uncovered a need for an agency with data analysis at its core and established Affinity.

Let’s face it, scam ads are created by agencies to win awards and it must be stamped out. We need to ask ourselves as an industry what’s the purpose of awards? I believe they should showcase work that’s not only cool, but has legitimately been in market and made a demonstrable difference for a brand.

For too long, suspect or downright scam award entries have proliferated and, in many cases, achieved significant recognition at award shows in Australia and internationally. It’s not only a problem because this practice takes credit from those that truly deserve it, but more importantly, awards are supposed to set the benchmark for best practice in the industry.

I can name five campaigns in the past 12 months that I know have either not delivered the results, utilised the technology or innovation as claimed, or have been submitted for awards before the campaign has even run (and even in that case the metrics looked incredible, funny given it hadn’t even been seen yet).

Scam ads create a doping culture and, before too long, all agencies will be tempted to dope too, just to try and compete. It’s not what we need right now.

The industry and the award shows need to take a stand so work that genuinely delivers real effectiveness for clients is honoured rather than work created purely to win trophies.

An additional complication with scam ads is they’re getting harder to detect. Spotting the bullshit takes time and effort, which is why I’m proud to be helping ADMA stamp out the practice by chairing its audit committee for this year’s AC&E Awards to eliminate scam and undeserving entries.

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About Jane:

Jane swears by diversity when it comes to doing business. From ideation and income streams to the people and their point of view, she says it’s a mix of minds that attracts disruption and innovation.

Scam ads are no longer a full-page print ad hidden in the back of a hobby farm magazine.

In an industry where careers and agencies are fuelled by golden lions and yellow pencils, scam ads are getting harder and harder to spot. With innovative services and products scooping up top metal at all the awards shows, case study videos are hiding massive functionality flaws and we’re left with great ideas that fail to deliver.

Take Domino’s ‘Anyware’ campaign, a concept that allows you to order pizza as quickly as humanly possible from almost any device. Sounds great right? Your enthusiasm will quickly wane when you attempt to use the platform.

First, you need a profile that needs to be set up through the website (hard to access on your smartwatch). You can’t save your profile without placing your first order. And so you give up because the whole process that was about easy, on-demand pizza has quickly become strangely inconvenient.

We’ve all had meetings where shortcuts are taken in an effort to create a ‘minimum, viable product’ rather than the best possible version of the concept. And this is where the real deception lies — we’ve started creating campaigns for the hype rather than delivering a usable, impressive idea. We may be winning over the award judges, but we’re pissing off the consumer.

So next time your client hands over a hefty budget and asks you to innovate — remember to make something that makes sense.

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About Rob:

With 20 years’ industry experience on three continents, Rob has picked up numerous awards for his work, including wins at the Effies, Cannes, D&AD, Clio, and AWARD.

Are we really still talking about this? We must be close to Cannes.

Scam ads are only a problem if we let them be one. In the past, plenty of awards shows have been happy to be the benefactors of their entry fees.

Sure they’ve cracked down nowadays, but getting a client to approve and run (and in some rare cases fund) an ad purely for the chance of shared metallic glory will continue to happen. After all, that, by definition, is not a scam ad but being proactive, no?

And if that’s what people want (or have) to do, because they can’t get good work otherwise, or it’s important for their career or their agency network rankings or their mum’s pride, or all of the above, then that’s cool. Good luck to them.

First and foremost, I want to create work that gets noticed, talked about and shared.

Work that works wonders for a brand’s bottom line and/or reputation. And, if it wins awards as a result, then that’s awesome. Oh and by the way, I still want to win awards. And not just for my mum.

I don’t know how many scam ads get talked about beyond our four, small advertising walls. I’m not sure too many have worked wonders for the brand they’re ‘selling’ either (except at award shows).

As an industry, we should always be striving to create ideas that solve real problems. Ideas that make the people they’re aimed at care enough to do something about. Give me Channel 4 ‘Meet The Superhumans’ or Adidas ‘Impossible Is Nothing’ or Burger King ‘McWhopper’ over a poster campaign for highlighters that reminds me that highlighters highlight, any day.

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About Jonathan:

Jonathan has been in communications for the past two decades and still “gets a real kick out of solving problems” for his clients. At DT, he’s on a mission to redefine the term “brand experience”.

For all the years I’ve been in this business I’ve never worked at a place that had the time or resources to invest in doing scam ads. Even in my early days at BBDO New York, we just never had the chance. So I’m probably the wrong person to ask, but in my mind scam ads are only a problem for the clients who hire agencies based on the awards they’ve won from doing them.

“Work that works” is the most over–used selling phrase in pitch–land these days but it’s reflective of what smart clients are really looking for. Authentic ideas that enhance the brand experience, move the needle financially and change the way people behave. Maybe I’m naïve but I don’t think industry awards drive new business decisions as much as they used to. I know they don’t carry as much weight in job interviews. The role for scam ads has fallen away in line with these industry shifts.

In saying this, from a purely creative point of view, there’s a strong argument in favour of scam ads. Coming up with better quality ideas is all about practice and working on as many briefs as possible. It’s the best way to exercise your creative muscle and keep your creative team firing. Truth is, most creatives don’t get to work on the really plum briefs all the time, so scam ads, or scam briefs, can be a simple way to share the love around. Just don’t enter the resulting ideas in any award shows.

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