LOSE YOUR RELIGION: D&AD breeds elitism. It thrives on it. But in creating its own elitist mantra, the award scheme is punishing the creative talent it is meant to honour, Trevor Beattie says

I have never won a D&AD pencil. Quite a lot of people know that. Still, neither have Larry Barker, Rooney Carruthers, Tim Hearn, Kate Stanners, Mike Wells, Rosie Arnold, Tom Hudson, Will Awdry, Damon Collins, Mary Wear, Jeremy Craigen, Martin Galton, Nigel Rose, Victoria Fallon, Steve Hudson, Ed Morris or James Sinclair. And they’re all far more talented than I’ll ever be.

I have never won a D&AD pencil. Quite a lot of people know that.

Still, neither have Larry Barker, Rooney Carruthers, Tim Hearn, Kate

Stanners, Mike Wells, Rosie Arnold, Tom Hudson, Will Awdry, Damon

Collins, Mary Wear, Jeremy Craigen, Martin Galton, Nigel Rose, Victoria

Fallon, Steve Hudson, Ed Morris or James Sinclair. And they’re all far

more talented than I’ll ever be.



But are they happy? I hear you ask. How do they manage to fill that

gaping chasm of failure in their obviously worthless professional

lives?



With huge job satisfaction, lavish lifestyles, full management backing,

client trust, exciting creative work and enviable sexual fulfilment,

probably.



I know I do.



Yet who the hell am I to comment on D&AD if I’ve yet to break my (little

yellow) duck? Well for starters, I’m the creative director of the agency

that the other week picked up more of the stumpy little blighters than

anybody else. More importantly, I’m a bloke who’s spent 20 years working

in and loving advertising. With a passion. That’s all the qualification

I need, sunshine.



When it comes to D&AD, however, I must confess to having a pair of

rather large quibbles. Allow me to slap them on the table for your

perusal.



Quibble One. Undue reverence. I love D&AD. But I don’t worship it. D&AD

is an awards scheme. For adverts and design (funny how there’s no slang

expression for design, innit?) it’s the best awards scheme around. But

it’s not the Holy Grail. I’ll run that one by you again for the

fundamentalists.



It’s not the Holy Grail. Honest to God.



So can we just lighten up a little? Can we by any chance cease the

constant, perverse and, frankly, ridiculous references to the Bible,

hallowed pages and imagery of the devout knelt in prayer to Mecca? I

think you’ll find on closer inspection that it’s actually a book of

adverts. Really corking adverts, I’ll grant you, but last year’s adverts

nonetheless.



And as for taking it down from the shelf and scouring the pages for

inspiration, I’d go one further than Larry Barker (Campaign, last week).

And say cobblers. Force-feeding young creative people the contents of an

old testament full of adverts formerly known as cool is a short-cut to

creative BSE. Take your inspiration from life. Sport. Music. Sex.

William Hague’s voice. Anything other than other adverts. They were

Then. You’ll be briefed on Now this afternoon.



This may sound trivial but I assure you it’s not. The net result of all

this quasi-religious claptrap is that so often any questioning of the

machinations of D&AD is at best dismissed as sour grapes or at worst

treated as ’sacrilegious’.



Get a life. Advertising is commerce. We flog stuff. We want it to look

magnificent but we don’t do martyrdom. In fact, the only recorded cases

of Death in the Name of Advertising are most people’s marriages and

Kevin the Hamster.



Quibble Two. Elitism. Now this is a bone of contention big enough to

grace the Queen Mother’s fish supper. Big enough, in fact, to be divided

into sub-quibbles. Quibblettes even. Here they come: elitism versus

perfection.



No contest. They’re chalk and cheese, aren’t they? Perfection is a

wonderful thing. Elitism stinks. Perfection is Muhammad Ali throwing a

right hand lead against George Foreman. Perfection is Otis Redding

singing ’I’ve been loving you too long’. Perfection is a little lad in a

hood staring blankly into a camera and saying, ’... and conquered worlds

...’ Elitism, on the other hand, is them and us. It’s your local golf

club. Executive washrooms. The Ku Klux Klan.



Yet in discussing D&AD, many people get the two mixed up. As I see it,

D&AD strives to award perfection, but occasionally uses elitist methods

to do so. It’s certainly guilty of presenting itself as an elitist

gathering. And that’s a pity.



Elitism versus populism. Again, unless you’re an IBF judge, not much of

a fight. The vast majority of ’quality’ creative work also happens to

flog crates of product. It does not compute that only ’crap’ work sells

while ’creative’ work doesn’t. Levi’s, Haagen-Dazs, Orange, Wonderbra,

Tango and French Connection (well hush my mouth) are testimony to

that.



Yet at the same time, it’s wrong to simply poo-poo the populist. You

can’t knock success. We don’t have to give it a pencil but it’s arrogant

to dismiss it.



Titanic is without question the worst movie it has ever been my

displeasure to sleep through. But it won 285 Oscars and took more money

at the box office than Bill Gates earns in a fortnight. The Sun is the

biggest-selling newspaper in the world and Who Wants To Be A

Millionaire? is the highest-rating show on television (something that’s

actually supposed to be important to us advertisers). It’s also the best

TV entertainment I’ve seen all year and it just picked up a Bafta,

luv.



Good God, am I one of those vulgar advocates of the ’dumbing down’ of

the Arts? Not if it means I have to use that ridiculous expression, but

yes if the alternative is poshing up.



Elitism and clients. Hmm. Why does the myth still prevail about clients

being the enemy? Why does our business perpetuate the notion that great

creative work is produced despite, rather than because of, the client?

When the work wins, it was us wot done it; when it doesn’t, it’s because

the client’s a bastard and the product’s crap. I happen to love my

clients. One of my clients also happened to pick up this year’s only

gold pencil. And for a product, no less. Whatever next ...



Elitism and judging. Now you’re talking. The thing that bugs me most

about the entire D&AD enterprise is the way that advertising creatives

seem to take a perverse pleasure in NOT awarding their peers. (Keeps the

standard up, don’t you know?) How very British. And now, since a change

of rules, the system itself supports this mean-spiritedness. Let me

explain.



A few years ago, a creative team would write a TV script, pick a

director to shoot it, an editor to edit it, and sound designer to make

some noise.



If the resulting ad then won at D&AD for, let’s say, direction, the

team, as well as the relevant craftsperson, picked up a pencil. Quite

right too. Without the original script and the ongoing input of the

creative team, no bugger would’ve won anything. Creative teams have

built entire careers on the strength of pencils won ’with the third

person’.



Not any more they won’t. Now we have divisionism. This means that the

director alone takes the bauble while the parents of the idea sit in

startled silence on the sidelines. (I know, I sat next to them.)



Imagine the fun we could have imposing this ruling retrospectively on a

few people’s careers. Hand back a pencil? There’s more hope of Slobodan

Milosevic giving Kosovo back to the Albanians.



God knows, it’s hard enough to do great work. Some might say it’s also

getting harder to sell it. All we bloody need is to see that

increasingly rare achievement forced through a sieve of

institutionalised jealousy. Doling out a few more pointy lumps of wood

for the same winning advert is not a lowering of standards. However, it

seems to me that a lot of London creatives would rather see a pencil go

to the bloke who made the bacon butties on the shoot than acknowledge

and reward one of their own.



Far from encouraging folks to fly higher, this is downright discouraging

and I believe it will be damaging to D&AD in the long run. I was

fascinated by the result of a People’s Jury vote on CampaignLive last

week. In answer to the stark question ’Do the D&AD awards matter?’, 56

per cent said no. Something’s wrong somewhere. Shouldn’t we be aiming

for (nay, expecting) a 90 per cent yes? If not, why not?



No form of judging can be perfect. But it shouldn’t be elitist, either.

With Sony PlayStation’s ’double life’, Ed Morris and James Sinclair

created perfection. Yet on the night, they were robbed of their personal

reward for this achievement by jealousy draped in elitism. If perfection

is from Mars, then elitism is a product of Uranus. I await my fatwah.

Peace.



Trevor Beattie is the creative director of TBWA GGT Simons Palmer.



Topics