A: Are you sitting comfortably? Good. I'm afraid you'll be there for some time.
You see, my child, it's like this. I know creative juries judge entries "as pieces of marketing communication". I, too, have seen them in action and have even been part of that action. Judging creative work as pieces of marketing communication is what creative teams, creative directors, account planners, researchers and account executives do every day. Marketing directors put their careers on the line every time they sign off on a multimillion-pound campaign: which they have judged with a degree of intensity experienced only by those whose own money is at stake.
The trouble, my child, is that creative teams, creative directors, account planners, account executives, researchers and clients are frequently wrong. There is no single senior ad person, on either side of the client divide, anywhere in the world, whose pre-judgment of creative work has demonstrated uninterrupted infallibility.
Behind every creative recommendation there lurks a long series of unspoken hypotheses. If we're right in thinking that these are our most fruitful prospects ... if we're right in thinking they're worried about their health ... then experience suggests they should respond very positively to this particular advertising idea.
When agencies and clients evaluate advertising ideas, at least they know the insights on which the proposals are based. Creative juries do not.
And at this point, my child, let me remind you that jury members are not drawn from a discrete race of supernatural beings. Creative juries are composed of those very same people who, even when in complete possession of the form, frequently back the wrong horse.
It would be ludicrous, therefore, to expect all award-winning advertising to be, ipso facto, commercially effective. That is not what creative awards are for. So let us now consider what they are for.
I hope you would agree that an advertiser who paid five hundred thousand potatoes for a 30-second commercial and then transmitted 30 seconds of mute blank screen would be unlikely to recover his costs. The value of advertising is overwhelmingly dependent on its content. Entirely depending on content, those five hundred thousand potatoes can be worth nothing - or four-and-a-half million. The relentless search for exceptional content should therefore be a professional obligation. And the value of creative awards is simply that they encourage and inspire that search.
That they may also encourage younger creative people to believe themselves to be Orson Welles is unfortunate - but nothing that a grown-up creative director can't easily correct.
The great glory of effectiveness awards is that, unlike creative awards, they deal exclusively in the certainties of hindsight. They record the original hypotheses, describe the proposed solution and then, with the tantalising disclosure of a good whodunit, reveal the outcome. Without exception, content will have played a significant part. And that some of that content is not self-evidently "creative" is a sobering reminder of the realities of our trade.
Personally, I long for a third category of award, even more educational than the two we already have. It would be called Advertising Autopsies, in which magnificent failures would be exhumed, dissected and analysed in clinical detail. However, nobody else seems very keen on the idea.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. He welcomes questions via campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.