Opinion: Perspective - Why British ads deserve a good show at the D&AD

If you're reading this on Thursday: it's the D&AD Awards tonight. If you're reading after Thursday, you'll already know whether the new venue (the Royal Festival Hall), the pared-down format (no formal dinner) and the auditorium setting were all a success.

It's a big night for D&AD. The organisation was pulled to the brink of bankruptcy last year and has worked hard over the past 12 months to streamline its operations and introduce some new financial rigour. The decision to ditch Billingsgate and the elaborations of congress has been key, and whatever you make of this year's awards, D&AD might have had no future without instituting such change.

What hasn't changed this year, though, is the full-on international flavour of the ceremony. The spread of entries and judges was reflective of a global industry and there's no doubt that the tally of winners will be the same. Last year, the Brits picked up fewer than half the Pencils on offer and this year is unlikely to be any different.

The reasoning for broadening out the event is well-rehearsed and hard to argue with. Advertising is an international game, creatives are a transferable resource, big clients have cross-border perspectives, there's more money to be made from inviting overseas agencies to enter the awards. And British advertising is not quite the world-beater it used to be; and some of the best creatives working here aren't British. So let's not get hung up on a jingoistic ego trip.

Except that most ads by British agencies only compete in the real world against other British ads, and by necessity have to have a sensibility to suit the local audience. Which means that comparing creativity from different countries can sometimes prove to be controversial.

The recent results from America's One Show highlight how badly some of the UK's recent advertising triumphs travel. The UK creative agency of the moment, Fallon, made unquestionably two of the best ads of last year - Sony Bravia's "Play-Doh" and Cadbury's Dairy Milk's "gorilla", but they only walked away with a couple of bronzes.

DDB won a gold for its Harvey Nichols Menswear press ads, Bartle Bogle Hegarty won a silver for its "dangerous liaison" TV spot for Levi's, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO won a bronze for its Choice FM Kill the Gun campaign. And that was it. All we could manage. Not exactly a cache.

Let's hope the D&AD jury was sufficiently UK-centric to ensure that the ads that played so well here get a good showing in this week's awards. D&AD's recovery plan could depend upon it.

Since they're not yet in power, whatever the Tories might have to say about advertising should really be treated with a healthy dose of scepticism. Particularly when you consider that what politicians promise to institute is so rarely what actually transpires if/when they come to power.

Bearing all this in mind, though, the Conservatives' promise to curb government spending if they win the next election should send a shiver of fear through adland. COI is one of the most reliable and biggest spenders in the industry ("£800 million on advertising in the past five years alone," Francis Maude roars). It's a lifeblood for many agencies, and at Campaign we quite like it too: plenty of copy to be had from all those pitches.

The problem is that it does seem as though the Tories have settled on advertising both as a stick to beat the Opposition with and - in these anti-advertising times - a potential vote-winner. Quite how much thought they've given to the effectiveness of the government campaigns is unclear, but I suspect it's very little.

Not all advertisers demand as much rigour from their agencies as COI does. The insight and understanding that goes into most of its campaigns bears fruit in the results and the Tories ignore the value of this at their - and the ad industry's - peril.

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