Imagine the scene. Jackie Collins is having dinner with Steven
Seagal and that bloke who does the elephant paintings. Jackie’s cross
because she hasn’t won the Booker prize. Again.
Apparently, some Argentinean bint’s stolen the show with some depressing
diatribe about ’the troubles’.
’I mean, darlings,’ Jackie says. ’It didn’t even have a gold cover. What
sort of book’s that? I sell millions and am a close friend of Michael
Winner! What do you have to do to get the bloody Booker?’
’How do you think I feel?’ Seagal snipes. ’Have you seen my video sales
figures recently? Do I get best actor? Do I buggery! A bloke who can
barely speak the Queen’s English swans in with a film about
concentration camps and gets it, first time. It’s got subtitles, for
God’s sake! And not so much as a karate chop from beginning to end.’
’You think you’ve got problems,’ the elephant man says. ’I sit all day
in the baking sun, stinking of elephant shit, painting poxy
I’m universally acclaimed. But what wins the Turner prize? A room full
of concrete. I bet she can’t draw a horse, let alone paint an African
Jackie sums it up: ’That’s the trouble with these awards. They don’t
reward what’s popular or what sells. They just reward what’s cool.’
And so it goes on.
Every year D&AD has the old ’elitist’ charge slung at it. Campaign’s
Caroline Marshall gave us her twopenny-worth a couple of weeks ago. But
despite this, D&AD produces an annual, year in, year out, that becomes
’the Bible’ for creatives all around the world.
Of course, the easy response to this criticism is: ’If you don’t like
it, start your own bloody scheme.’ Which, of course, people do. And they
too have their place. Each one putting its own spin on things.
The Creative Circle valiantly tries to go where no other awards scheme
goes. It aims to be different. It’s also the least prestigious of all
the UK-based big four. I think that is no coincidence. Campaign includes
clients on its juries and sometimes throws up interesting results. I
don’t know about you, but it seems like enough clients have had a look
at my work already.
Then there’s BTAA, which tends to lean towards the craft side of things,
and puts the production company and director ahead of the agency
What they all lack is the ’purity’ of D&AD.
If you read this month’s copy of Ampersand (the D&AD house magazine),
you’ll recognise the quote of the designer, Eero Saaninen: ’Compromise
usually comes from a fear of being pure.’
It is no small feat to get an idea from first thoughts to finished
ad/design, without being compromised.
That is what we reward at D&AD. And it takes people who’ve been through
that soul-destroying assault course to judge it.
Yes, they are strict. No, they don’t let much in. And yes, there’s lots
of stuff that’s popular and/or effective that will never get in.
Direct Line’s ’red telephone’ worked. It made the client a
So, is that good advertising? Should it get in the book? No. It’s crap,
and I don’t care how effective it was.
Of course, there are award schemes that judge how effective work is.
BMP DDB has won more of them than anyone else. We’ve also won more
creative awards than anyone else and, for the second year running, had
more work published in D&AD than anyone else.
So to say that, in D&AD’s view, there are two kinds of advertising -
stuff that works and stuff that wins - is errant nonsense. BMP is living
proof of that. Volkswagen works and it wins.
Why else do you think that agencies that do well creatively also do well
as businesses? And D&AD is a bloody good barometer of the creative state
of play between agencies.
If you look at last year’s annual and who has the most entries, there’s
a spooky similarity between that list and the Campaign creative honours
table for the past 30 years, published in the magazine’s 30th
anniversary issue last year.
And it’s not D&AD’s fault that these same agencies win, year in, year
out. It’s the fault of the agencies that constantly don’t get in for not
being good enough.
’Yes, but by whose standards?’ goes the cry. Well, ours. And that’s the
point. D&AD is the one forum where the people who do the work can
recognise, encourage and reward their peers.
(And for those of you who’ve never been on a D&AD jury, we do not act
like sheep; individuals do proffer differences of opinions and there is,
more often than not, a stand-up row. It is not easy work.)
Marshall then asks: ’How do you prevent most of the awards going to
’cool’ ads produced by the same handful of people and agencies?’
Well, why on earth would you want to? If you want unoriginal and
unfashionable, watch the telly and read the papers. There’s plenty to
D&AD is also accused of ignoring popular work. Not if it’s good we
You don’t get more popular than Flat Eric. There’s not a person in
Britain who can’t do a decent ’and conquered worlds’ impression (Sony
Walkers Crisps has been voted in before now. And McDonald’s has had ads
in the book for the past two years.
But you won’t find the Birds of a Feather girls in there, nor will the
Andrex puppies piss all over the hallowed pages, however much your mum
likes them. Because popular does not equal good.
I suppose we’re the victim of our own success. If we weren’t the gold
standard, people wouldn’t ask so much of us. We wouldn’t have to be all
things to all men.
No-one gives a toss when one of the lesser awards schemes pops up with a
But at D&AD, our every move is marked. And, of course, it’s always this
time of year that the flak starts to fly.
The rest of the year, of course, we get on with all the other stuff that
D&AD does: the student awards scheme, creative workshops, selling
British creativity abroad, the president’s lectures, research into
training, publishing definitive works that have become industry
standard, and generally acting as guardians of everything that’s great
about British advertising and design.
And we can only afford to do this because of the money we get from
entries and membership coupled with the support we have within the
creative community. Anyway, if we were getting it that wrong, we’d know
Because, here’s the thing. Long after the pamphlets and brochures that
the other awards schemes produce are consigned to the bin, the D&AD
Annual stays up on the shelf.
And in years to come, people will take it down, look at it and pore over
the freshness and originality that will still come shining through.
Then they will nick the ideas that these brave pioneers struggled to get
through suspicious clients, antagonistic focus groups and
tougher-than-tough juries and turn them into the kind of everyday,
’popular’, maybe even effective but ultimately ordinary advertising that
everybody’s so keen to see us put in the book.
Well, not while I’m in charge we won’t.
Larry Barker is president elect of D&AD and executive creative director
of BMP DDB.