Close-Up: Have award shows seen off the scam?

The One Show and D&AD are standing up to scam ads, but what about Cannes?

In France, the home of advertising's foremost awards festival, scam ads are rather poetically known as "ghost ads". It's a fitting term when you consider that, like stubborn spectres, despite various attempts to exorcise them they still continue to put the wind up the awards circuit.

One such disturbing presence at awards shows this year was an ad DDB Brasil made for the Brazilian branch of the World Wildlife Fund, which showed a fleet of planes flying towards the New York skyline. It ran only once, in a small Sao Paulo newspaper, but it won a One Show merit award and a video version was submitted to Cannes.

It wasn't the only scandal this year: FP7 Doha was stripped of its award at the Dubai Lynx awards for a fake ad for Samsung showing Jesus taking a picture of some nuns with a Samsung camera. But it was the DDB Brasil ad, called "tsunami", that caused such offence it sparked its own tidal wave of protest. After rescinding the ad, the One Show went a step further and ruled that agencies that made ads for non-existent clients, or without clients' approval, would be banned from entering the One Show for five years and it put a three-year ban on agencies that enter ads that have "run once, on late night TV" or only run because the agency paid for the media space.

Remi Babinet, the Euro RSCG chairman and worldwide creative director, welcomes the approach taken by the One Show: "It's the only awards show that's taken a strong stance and it's been very clear about the consequences."

Other top shows have since scrambled to make their policies public. D&AD reiterated its approach, which includes a ban on agencies submitting scam ads, and also introduced the rule that the agency's executive creative director will be required to validate the eligibility of every entry.

The organisers of Cannes, which notably is not a non-profit-making organisation such as the One Show and D&AD, said they would only ban the creatives responsible for the scam ad from entering work, not the agencies. This prompted accusations that the policy was a convenient way of not losing out on the whopping entrance fees.

But Phil Thomas, the chief executive of Cannes Lions, dismisses all charges of commercial interest, arguing that shows that have decided to ban agencies have gone too far. He says: "Agencies are made up of people. What about those people in the agencies, outside of the leadership, that had nothing to do with a scam ad? Why are they so severely punished?"

There is confusion surrounding the definition of a scam ad. An ad that has run only once but has client approval, which was the case with the DDB Brasil ad, is not always considered a scam.

The One Show has made it clear this comes under its definition of scam ads, but other award shows have not. Thomas says that the Cannes Lions classification of a scam ad is "a piece of work created without the knowledge of the client and without the client paying".

Agencies have used this grey area as a way to give young creatives a chance to prove their mettle, but Jon Burley, the executive creative director at Leo Burnett, calls for clearer guidelines, saying: "I'm not comfortable with an ad running only once, which is made for the agency."

Thomas notes that while scam ads are "one bloody big headache" for Cannes Lions, their presence has dwindled: "The FP7 Doha ad was a genuine scam, but that is so rare." Babinet disagrees, saying the print category at international awards shows is peppered with scam ads: "It's a paradox that the big international shows, which are the most respected, are the most distant from real advertising."

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CREATIVE - Neil French, former worldwide creative director, WPP

"If an ad is approved by the client, however small and of whatever ethnicity, gender or geographical location, and it has run in the media, irrespective of frequency or budget, that should be the end of it.

"If an entrant is dumb enough not to get the client's approval, or to neglect to run the ad at all, he deserves all the ridicule and lawsuits he gets.

"Surely this has always been the case? It doesn't need hysteria on top. If a jury is good enough, it will have a built-in bullshit-meter, and good jurors always give extra credit for 'degree of difficulty'.

"That's all that's needed. Are the juries good enough? Aaaah. That's far more important and well worth investigation."

CREATIVE - Matthew Bull, chief executive, Lowe Worldwide

"The One Show is without doubt the right way to go. The individual creatives should be named and shamed but not banned. The creative leader determines the moral fibre of the agency, so to punish the individual is wrong.

"What Cannes is doing is protecting its revenue stream. It is not punishing the people that pay, it is punishing the people that enter.

"Its decision is a flawed one and if it says it wants to cut out scam ads, it needs to adopt the same ruling as the One Show.

"But it's not the award shows' job to determine the moral standards of the industry, we have to regulate ourselves."

CREATIVE - Mark Roalfe, executive creative director, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

"They haven't all gone far enough yet but many have started the journey. The awards system created scam ads in the first place by giving them awards.

"Unfortunately, they continue to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy because the more awards that are given for scam work, the more they will be created.

"Anything that drives scam ads out of the system I applaud. The more stringent the policy, the more effective it will be. But there also lies a responsibility with the jurors. It's not going to stop until people on juries stop awarding scam ads. Juries have a duty to make sure they are not giving them awards."

AWARDS CHIEF - Tim O'Kennedy, chief executive, D&AD

"I think that the One Show's statement was right, and it gave D&AD the opportunity to restate our own stringent approach.

"I'd have hoped for something a bit more robust from Cannes, but it's their show. I'd say that Cannes is more commercially driven, so I guess anything that could limit entry volume would give them more pause.

"The 25 people at D&AD can't vet the 20,000 entries: we want our system to be self-policing by making sure senior people in agencies realise there are serious penalties attached to scam ads. If you want to stand for something meaningful and award shows are going to have meaningful value, then it has to be about real work."


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