D&AD: Proud to be cool - D&AD consistently receives industry flak for its choice of creative award winners. Here, Larry Barker defends D&AD’s so-called elitist stance

Imagine the scene. Jackie Collins is having dinner with Steven Seagal and that bloke who does the elephant paintings. Jackie’s cross because she hasn’t won the Booker prize. Again.

Imagine the scene. Jackie Collins is having dinner with Steven

Seagal and that bloke who does the elephant paintings. Jackie’s cross

because she hasn’t won the Booker prize. Again.

Apparently, some Argentinean bint’s stolen the show with some depressing

diatribe about ’the troubles’.

’I mean, darlings,’ Jackie says. ’It didn’t even have a gold cover. What

sort of book’s that? I sell millions and am a close friend of Michael

Winner! What do you have to do to get the bloody Booker?’

’How do you think I feel?’ Seagal snipes. ’Have you seen my video sales

figures recently? Do I get best actor? Do I buggery! A bloke who can

barely speak the Queen’s English swans in with a film about

concentration camps and gets it, first time. It’s got subtitles, for

God’s sake! And not so much as a karate chop from beginning to end.’

’You think you’ve got problems,’ the elephant man says. ’I sit all day

in the baking sun, stinking of elephant shit, painting poxy


I’m universally acclaimed. But what wins the Turner prize? A room full

of concrete. I bet she can’t draw a horse, let alone paint an African


Jackie sums it up: ’That’s the trouble with these awards. They don’t

reward what’s popular or what sells. They just reward what’s cool.’

And so it goes on.

Every year D&AD has the old ’elitist’ charge slung at it. Campaign’s

Caroline Marshall gave us her twopenny-worth a couple of weeks ago. But

despite this, D&AD produces an annual, year in, year out, that becomes

’the Bible’ for creatives all around the world.

Of course, the easy response to this criticism is: ’If you don’t like

it, start your own bloody scheme.’ Which, of course, people do. And they

too have their place. Each one putting its own spin on things.

The Creative Circle valiantly tries to go where no other awards scheme

goes. It aims to be different. It’s also the least prestigious of all

the UK-based big four. I think that is no coincidence. Campaign includes

clients on its juries and sometimes throws up interesting results. I

don’t know about you, but it seems like enough clients have had a look

at my work already.

Then there’s BTAA, which tends to lean towards the craft side of things,

and puts the production company and director ahead of the agency


What they all lack is the ’purity’ of D&AD.

If you read this month’s copy of Ampersand (the D&AD house magazine),

you’ll recognise the quote of the designer, Eero Saaninen: ’Compromise

usually comes from a fear of being pure.’

It is no small feat to get an idea from first thoughts to finished

ad/design, without being compromised.

That is what we reward at D&AD. And it takes people who’ve been through

that soul-destroying assault course to judge it.

Yes, they are strict. No, they don’t let much in. And yes, there’s lots

of stuff that’s popular and/or effective that will never get in.

Direct Line’s ’red telephone’ worked. It made the client a


So, is that good advertising? Should it get in the book? No. It’s crap,

and I don’t care how effective it was.

Of course, there are award schemes that judge how effective work is.

BMP DDB has won more of them than anyone else. We’ve also won more

creative awards than anyone else and, for the second year running, had

more work published in D&AD than anyone else.

So to say that, in D&AD’s view, there are two kinds of advertising -

stuff that works and stuff that wins - is errant nonsense. BMP is living

proof of that. Volkswagen works and it wins.

Why else do you think that agencies that do well creatively also do well

as businesses? And D&AD is a bloody good barometer of the creative state

of play between agencies.

If you look at last year’s annual and who has the most entries, there’s

a spooky similarity between that list and the Campaign creative honours

table for the past 30 years, published in the magazine’s 30th

anniversary issue last year.

And it’s not D&AD’s fault that these same agencies win, year in, year

out. It’s the fault of the agencies that constantly don’t get in for not

being good enough.

’Yes, but by whose standards?’ goes the cry. Well, ours. And that’s the

point. D&AD is the one forum where the people who do the work can

recognise, encourage and reward their peers.

(And for those of you who’ve never been on a D&AD jury, we do not act

like sheep; individuals do proffer differences of opinions and there is,

more often than not, a stand-up row. It is not easy work.)

Marshall then asks: ’How do you prevent most of the awards going to

’cool’ ads produced by the same handful of people and agencies?’

Well, why on earth would you want to? If you want unoriginal and

unfashionable, watch the telly and read the papers. There’s plenty to

choose from.

D&AD is also accused of ignoring popular work. Not if it’s good we


You don’t get more popular than Flat Eric. There’s not a person in

Britain who can’t do a decent ’and conquered worlds’ impression (Sony


Walkers Crisps has been voted in before now. And McDonald’s has had ads

in the book for the past two years.

But you won’t find the Birds of a Feather girls in there, nor will the

Andrex puppies piss all over the hallowed pages, however much your mum

likes them. Because popular does not equal good.

I suppose we’re the victim of our own success. If we weren’t the gold

standard, people wouldn’t ask so much of us. We wouldn’t have to be all

things to all men.

No-one gives a toss when one of the lesser awards schemes pops up with a

dubious winner.

But at D&AD, our every move is marked. And, of course, it’s always this

time of year that the flak starts to fly.

The rest of the year, of course, we get on with all the other stuff that

D&AD does: the student awards scheme, creative workshops, selling

British creativity abroad, the president’s lectures, research into

training, publishing definitive works that have become industry

standard, and generally acting as guardians of everything that’s great

about British advertising and design.

And we can only afford to do this because of the money we get from

entries and membership coupled with the support we have within the

creative community. Anyway, if we were getting it that wrong, we’d know

about it.

Because, here’s the thing. Long after the pamphlets and brochures that

the other awards schemes produce are consigned to the bin, the D&AD

Annual stays up on the shelf.

And in years to come, people will take it down, look at it and pore over

the freshness and originality that will still come shining through.

Then they will nick the ideas that these brave pioneers struggled to get

through suspicious clients, antagonistic focus groups and

tougher-than-tough juries and turn them into the kind of everyday,

’popular’, maybe even effective but ultimately ordinary advertising that

everybody’s so keen to see us put in the book.

Well, not while I’m in charge we won’t.

Larry Barker is president elect of D&AD and executive creative director