PERSPECTIVE: Creative awards are vital to save us from Winner's wallpaper

There's nothing like a good old bit of bollock-kicking to get a debate going. After BMW's Phil Horton last week slammed the general quality of TV advertising, heads have nodded, navels been gazed at and blame duly passed on (clients should pay their agencies more, grumble, grumble).

It's a timely debate. As the summer awards season gets underway and a thin layer of work generates enormous excitement and self-satisfaction, the overall quality of advertising is easily over-looked. After all, D&AD entries are surging up (p10), villas have been booked for Cannes and Lions are already being predicted (place bets on Wieden & Kennedy's "cog" for Honda). That 99 per cent of the work we see as consumers is more toe-curling than a Danniella Westbrook/Wayne Sleep clinch is conveniently ignored.

But above it all floats the spectre of Michael Winner, who is now offering out his services to the ad industry at large (see Diary this week), clearly convinced there's a market for his talents. After all, his Esure ads are excruciating but - oh so irritatingly - effective (have you ever slowed down to look at a car crash?).

There are plenty of examples of dazzling campaigns that wet ad industry knickers, get the awards juries frothing but leave consumers underwhelmed (Guinness' "surfer"). And an obsession with style stripped from the context of effectiveness grows increasingly unhealthy as the awards podiums creak over the summer.

It's ironic Bartle Bogle Hegarty should this week be stripped of its Xbox account, one of the few ads really to stand out creatively last year.

The controversial and commanding ads made their debut last spring promoting a product beset by pricing and distribution problems and with a budget almost a third less than its competitors. In this atmosphere, BBH's work punched above its weight. And it won awards.

Now Xbox has been internationally aligned into Microsoft's agency McCann-Erickson. Horton's right about too much advertising being wallpaper, but when work as good as BBH's for Xbox is dropped in favour of agency alignments then clients deserve to shoulder some of the blame for bland ad breaks.

But so do those who shun awards as irrelevant. Selling products and services must, of course, be the end result of any successful campaign. But unless we encourage that process to be executed with creative flair, and not just an eye on sales, then we are all the poorer.

Without surprising, exciting and challenging advertising we will end up with wall-to-wall Winner, ads that do the job but don't stimulate and excite or add anything to our enjoyment of the medium in which they appear.

In this context, creative awards do matter, not in isolation from their ultimate aim of shifting product but in tandem with it.

- Caroline Marshall is on maternity leave.

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