Close-up: D&AD Awards - Is white the new black?

A white Pencil is generally welcomed, as long as it doesn't devalue the others, Matt Williams finds.

As some of the industry's finest minds descended on London's Olympia last week to judge the 2011 D&AD Awards, they were greeted with the news that next year's competition will be even grander still.

To celebrate the organisation's 50th birthday, a white Pencil is to be introduced (to sit alongside the current yellow and black offerings), which will reward those who "use creative communications to bring about change for good".

Each year, D&AD will set a "live" brief in partnership with an organisation - this year, it is the charity Peace One Day - and agencies will be given the opportunity to come up with their own solutions to help raise awareness of the charity or issue at hand. To really up the ante, just one white Pencil will be handed out each year, with the winning idea receiving further support to help distribute the campaign in more locations around the world.

Simon Sankarayya, the D&AD president, says: "It's a win-win situation that means the cream of international design and advertising creatives will help make the world a better and more peaceful place."

And many creatives are applauding the decision to put more of a focus on "conscious advertising".

"We do what we do, but we're now just trying to be more ethical about how we do it," Steve Vranakis, the creative director at VCCP, says. "And if you look at some of the brightest minds in our industry, like Dave Droga and Alex Bogusky, it's something they have been putting an emphasis on for a while."

Adam & Eve's founding partner Ben Priest, who was a foreman on this year's awards jury, also suggests that by bringing in the award, D&AD is showing that it is an organisation that recognises how and where it needs to progress.

"The yellow and black Pencils require an exceptionally high standard of work, so much so that you can get an outbreak of 'macho-meanness' when judging it," he says. "So it's good to introduce an award that shows D&AD is still all about supporting creativity."

There is still a worry, though, whether creatives have the time - or, indeed, the inclination - to fully take the opportunity to heart.

"We already have three pro bono clients that we are highly committed to, and I'm not sure we have time to take on another one and really do it justice," Adam Kean, the joint executive creative director at Publicis London, points out.

Tom Skinner, a creative at CHI & Partners, adds: "I've always had huge respect for D&AD since I got into the industry, but I'd rather spend time trying to win a yellow or black Pencil for the charity clients that my agency already works on and has personal links with."

Ultimately, though, creatives tend to agree that introducing the white Pencil will be beneficial if only to help restore a bit of faith in the industry.

"Advertising has the potential to solve global problems, not add to them," Steve Henry, the HHCL & Partners founder, says. "The white Pencil will provide the impetus and focus for our industry to lift its gaze and put all its extraordinary creative talent behind a worthy endeavour. Never has the phrase 'nobody wins unless everybody wins' been more true."

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CREATIVE - Ben Priest, founding partner, Adam & Eve

"The most important thing with D&AD is that whatever new initiatives you bring in, you must avoid devaluing the yellow and black Pencils.

"Those Pencils are, statistically speaking, still one of the most difficult awards to win, so any new awards you bring in can't devalue their prestige.

"The white Pencil doesn't do that: it's a unique opportunity and not going up against anything else. It's purely a chance for us to use creativity for a positive effect, but it keeps the yellow and black Pencils in the spotlight.

"D&AD has progressed over the years and it's good that it recognises the need to keep developing; this is just the right amount of change."

CREATIVE - Tom Skinner, creative, CHI & Partners

"I'm not exactly sure where the white Pencil award stands. The charity sector as a whole always tends to do well at awards and, if anything, needs to be judged more on effectiveness than pure creativity.

"I'd rather set out to do the best work on the clients the agency already has - it's not about working on a brief just to win an award. But a lot of agencies will lap it up just to get those points for The Gunn Report.

"The right thing to do would be to help out charities regardless, not because of the carrot of an award at the end."

CREATIVE - Steve Vranakis, creative director, VCCP

"I love the idea of a white Pencil. I think it's exactly what's needed at this point in time. Advertising is being drawn closer to 'creativity with a conscious' more and more every day.

"People talk about how the talent of the ad industry could help change the world, and I think this award is one step closer to making that happen. It doesn't completely justify what we do but it certainly makes it better.

"You've got some of the most creative people in this industry who approach things from a very leftfield positioning, and these people are now being cast to do more things for the greater good."

CREATIVE - Adam Kean, joint executive creative director, Publicis London

"I think the white Pencil will only work providing it partners with the right people.

"For instance, I'm not massively taken with the Peace One Day idea and that's clouded my judgment.

"I think you get the best work for charities when there are personal links in the agency to it. We have to really believe in them, and for this Pencil to work you need people who really believe in Peace One Day.

"I admire D&AD for saying that this isn't just about the idea, that it will have an effect, but that means you need the time, space and energy to do it properly. On any level, it's a big commitment."

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