I have never won a D&AD pencil. Quite a lot of people know that.
Still, neither have Larry Barker, Rooney Carruthers, Tim Hearn, Kate
Stanners, Mike Wells, Rosie Arnold, Tom Hudson, Will Awdry, Damon
Collins, Mary Wear, Jeremy Craigen, Martin Galton, Nigel Rose, Victoria
Fallon, Steve Hudson, Ed Morris or James Sinclair. And they’re all far
more talented than I’ll ever be.
But are they happy? I hear you ask. How do they manage to fill that
gaping chasm of failure in their obviously worthless professional
With huge job satisfaction, lavish lifestyles, full management backing,
client trust, exciting creative work and enviable sexual fulfilment,
I know I do.
Yet who the hell am I to comment on D&AD if I’ve yet to break my (little
yellow) duck? Well for starters, I’m the creative director of the agency
that the other week picked up more of the stumpy little blighters than
anybody else. More importantly, I’m a bloke who’s spent 20 years working
in and loving advertising. With a passion. That’s all the qualification
I need, sunshine.
When it comes to D&AD, however, I must confess to having a pair of
rather large quibbles. Allow me to slap them on the table for your
Quibble One. Undue reverence. I love D&AD. But I don’t worship it. D&AD
is an awards scheme. For adverts and design (funny how there’s no slang
expression for design, innit?) it’s the best awards scheme around. But
it’s not the Holy Grail. I’ll run that one by you again for the
It’s not the Holy Grail. Honest to God.
So can we just lighten up a little? Can we by any chance cease the
constant, perverse and, frankly, ridiculous references to the Bible,
hallowed pages and imagery of the devout knelt in prayer to Mecca? I
think you’ll find on closer inspection that it’s actually a book of
adverts. Really corking adverts, I’ll grant you, but last year’s adverts
And as for taking it down from the shelf and scouring the pages for
inspiration, I’d go one further than Larry Barker (Campaign, last week).
And say cobblers. Force-feeding young creative people the contents of an
old testament full of adverts formerly known as cool is a short-cut to
creative BSE. Take your inspiration from life. Sport. Music. Sex.
William Hague’s voice. Anything other than other adverts. They were
Then. You’ll be briefed on Now this afternoon.
This may sound trivial but I assure you it’s not. The net result of all
this quasi-religious claptrap is that so often any questioning of the
machinations of D&AD is at best dismissed as sour grapes or at worst
treated as ’sacrilegious’.
Get a life. Advertising is commerce. We flog stuff. We want it to look
magnificent but we don’t do martyrdom. In fact, the only recorded cases
of Death in the Name of Advertising are most people’s marriages and
Kevin the Hamster.
Quibble Two. Elitism. Now this is a bone of contention big enough to
grace the Queen Mother’s fish supper. Big enough, in fact, to be divided
into sub-quibbles. Quibblettes even. Here they come: elitism versus
No contest. They’re chalk and cheese, aren’t they? Perfection is a
wonderful thing. Elitism stinks. Perfection is Muhammad Ali throwing a
right hand lead against George Foreman. Perfection is Otis Redding
singing ’I’ve been loving you too long’. Perfection is a little lad in a
hood staring blankly into a camera and saying, ’... and conquered worlds
...’ Elitism, on the other hand, is them and us. It’s your local golf
club. Executive washrooms. The Ku Klux Klan.
Yet in discussing D&AD, many people get the two mixed up. As I see it,
D&AD strives to award perfection, but occasionally uses elitist methods
to do so. It’s certainly guilty of presenting itself as an elitist
gathering. And that’s a pity.
Elitism versus populism. Again, unless you’re an IBF judge, not much of
a fight. The vast majority of ’quality’ creative work also happens to
flog crates of product. It does not compute that only ’crap’ work sells
while ’creative’ work doesn’t. Levi’s, Haagen-Dazs, Orange, Wonderbra,
Tango and French Connection (well hush my mouth) are testimony to
Yet at the same time, it’s wrong to simply poo-poo the populist. You
can’t knock success. We don’t have to give it a pencil but it’s arrogant
to dismiss it.
Titanic is without question the worst movie it has ever been my
displeasure to sleep through. But it won 285 Oscars and took more money
at the box office than Bill Gates earns in a fortnight. The Sun is the
biggest-selling newspaper in the world and Who Wants To Be A
Millionaire? is the highest-rating show on television (something that’s
actually supposed to be important to us advertisers). It’s also the best
TV entertainment I’ve seen all year and it just picked up a Bafta,
Good God, am I one of those vulgar advocates of the ’dumbing down’ of
the Arts? Not if it means I have to use that ridiculous expression, but
yes if the alternative is poshing up.
Elitism and clients. Hmm. Why does the myth still prevail about clients
being the enemy? Why does our business perpetuate the notion that great
creative work is produced despite, rather than because of, the client?
When the work wins, it was us wot done it; when it doesn’t, it’s because
the client’s a bastard and the product’s crap. I happen to love my
clients. One of my clients also happened to pick up this year’s only
gold pencil. And for a product, no less. Whatever next ...
Elitism and judging. Now you’re talking. The thing that bugs me most
about the entire D&AD enterprise is the way that advertising creatives
seem to take a perverse pleasure in NOT awarding their peers. (Keeps the
standard up, don’t you know?) How very British. And now, since a change
of rules, the system itself supports this mean-spiritedness. Let me
A few years ago, a creative team would write a TV script, pick a
director to shoot it, an editor to edit it, and sound designer to make
If the resulting ad then won at D&AD for, let’s say, direction, the
team, as well as the relevant craftsperson, picked up a pencil. Quite
right too. Without the original script and the ongoing input of the
creative team, no bugger would’ve won anything. Creative teams have
built entire careers on the strength of pencils won ’with the third
Not any more they won’t. Now we have divisionism. This means that the
director alone takes the bauble while the parents of the idea sit in
startled silence on the sidelines. (I know, I sat next to them.)
Imagine the fun we could have imposing this ruling retrospectively on a
few people’s careers. Hand back a pencil? There’s more hope of Slobodan
Milosevic giving Kosovo back to the Albanians.
God knows, it’s hard enough to do great work. Some might say it’s also
getting harder to sell it. All we bloody need is to see that
increasingly rare achievement forced through a sieve of
institutionalised jealousy. Doling out a few more pointy lumps of wood
for the same winning advert is not a lowering of standards. However, it
seems to me that a lot of London creatives would rather see a pencil go
to the bloke who made the bacon butties on the shoot than acknowledge
and reward one of their own.
Far from encouraging folks to fly higher, this is downright discouraging
and I believe it will be damaging to D&AD in the long run. I was
fascinated by the result of a People’s Jury vote on CampaignLive last
week. In answer to the stark question ’Do the D&AD awards matter?’, 56
per cent said no. Something’s wrong somewhere. Shouldn’t we be aiming
for (nay, expecting) a 90 per cent yes? If not, why not?
No form of judging can be perfect. But it shouldn’t be elitist, either.
With Sony PlayStation’s ’double life’, Ed Morris and James Sinclair
created perfection. Yet on the night, they were robbed of their personal
reward for this achievement by jealousy draped in elitism. If perfection
is from Mars, then elitism is a product of Uranus. I await my fatwah.
Trevor Beattie is the creative director of TBWA GGT Simons Palmer.