Feature

Trophy wars

Winning a Pencil and being named in 'the book' has long been the benchmark for UK creatives. However, D&AD's new emphasis on global work is proving to be unpopular in some quarters, and Creative Circle is preparing to capitalise.

The "Old Lions" film for Carlsberg lager that features a squad of former England footballers playing for a ramshackle pub 11, was one of the outstanding domestic ads of the past year. The idea of an ace amateur team consisting entirely of ageing footballing legends such as Bobby Charlton, Chris Waddle and Peter Shilton is intrinsically funny. Who wouldn't smile at the knowing way director Chris Palmer gently debunks yesterday's heroes?

Yet, despite the fact that it stands head and shoulders above the vast bulk of work produced by the British advertising industry in the past 15 months, Saatchi & Saatchi's "Old Lions" will be lucky if it picks up so much as a single prize at the country's leading creative awards ceremony, D&AD, due to be held in the Old Billingsgate market tonight. It stands nominated in just one category - TV Commercials over 120 Seconds. Although it faces no competition, it is still not guaranteed a stubby.

"I know it sounds like sour grapes," Dave Henderson, the creative director at Saatchis who wrote the ad, says, "but we hoped to do well at least in the craft categories. We didn't even get in the book. I'm not complaining, but we heard stories about our ad being judged by a jury of three foreign women and two foreign men."

Whatever happens to "Old Lions", it will fare a lot better than another outstanding piece of recent British advertising. The "St Wayne" poster for Nike, created by Wieden & Kennedy, showed a roaring Wayne Rooney daubed in the red Cross of St George. It is, by any standards, an extraordinarily powerful image, a savage evocation of English fighting spirit. It was probably the strongest British print ad of the year, taking top honours at both Campaign's Press and Poster Awards. Yet, tonight, it will not be up for a single award.

It may be that the D&AD juries simply don't share the same obsession with football as the mostly young, mostly male, mostly art-school educated creative teams that dominate the creative departments of British agencies. Perhaps rampant nationalism plays poorly with the refined D&AD sensibility. It could even be that British advertising hasn't been quite at the top of its game recently.

But there is no doubt that many in the London creative community are increasingly miffed at what they see as D&AD's failure to understand - and reward - their work. A recent letter to Campaign summed up that sentiment perfectly, with the words: "It's a sad day when the UK's top award show doesn't reward the UK's top work."

While you couldn't quite call it anger, there seems to be a real feeling in parts of the advertising creative community that it has somehow been let down by D&AD, which has sacrificed a strong domestic position in favour of its global ambitions.

The result is a marked souring of attitudes to an organisation that once held an unassailable place in the hearts of British advertising creatives. "For years, D&AD boasted it was the 'Best of British'. It still has prestige," the creative director of one top-ten agency says, "but it is becoming more and more like Eurovision, and people are getting pissed off with it."

No-one is more pissed off than Mark Denton, the creative director at Therapy Films and chairman of the rival Creative Circle Awards. Despite being the proud owner of six coveted yellow Pencils, he was so pissed off that he has snaffled D&AD's discarded 40-year-old positioning, "Best of British", and is now using it to revive the Creative Circle in the hope that it will soon displace D&AD in the ad industry's collective affection.

He explains: "When I was growing up, I used to pore over the D&AD Annuals; they taught me everything. But recently I've noticed that I haven't been poring quite so much. It has changed over the years. Now there's more design; its seems like it's all architecture, luggage and forklift trucks. Yet, the Annual, which is where its real educational value lay, hasn't been designed at all well.

"D&AD's new global strategy seems to be an idea formulated by a handful of people. They certainly didn't ask their membership what they wanted."

He is the first to admit that Creative Circle was a fading force - it was in dire financial straits, judging was a mess and it seemed to have no particular reason to exist. But now he has reinvigorated it with new purpose, and rebranded it with new judges, including many of the top names in the industry, new trophies, a new ceremony and, most important of all, he believes, a new book.

Of course, his version of "Best of British" is a bit more in tabloid-vindaloo territory than the rather high-minded Reithian approach of D&AD, which was set up, after all, as an educational charity. The menu at the 2007 awards dinner looked like it came from a greasy spoon cafe, and consisted of fish and chips, wallies and pickled onions, followed by "pudding du pain et de beurre avec custarde d'oiseaux".

Rooney, the Cross of St George, plain English food ironically described in a poncey foreign language? Sounds like someone has been watching too much Al Murray. But Denton says his aim is simply to provide the industry a service that D&AD can no longer manage.

"We aren't doing this for jingoistic purposes," he says. "I love the idea of rekindling some sense of having a UK advertising creative community that has been lost in recent years. The idea isn't to create some kind of British cottage industry, but to have a world-class awards show with a uniquely British viewpoint."

Denton says his objection to D&AD's new global positioning is only that it makes it less relevant to British advertising creatives. Privately, however, others admit to more specific concerns.

For some, the word "global" is like sticking two fingers up at their creative aspirations. "The word 'global' is often used as a synonym for uncreative. So, a global creative award is a bit of an oxymoron," another well-known creative director says. The fear is that in widening its scope, D&AD will select worse work. "It will also be more open to scam ads, because it is much harder to police the entire world," he adds.

However, the core of the resentment seems to be that, in going global, D&AD will have to employ a wider range of nationalities as jurors. While that will be great for diversity, it will do little to reward ads containing culturally specific references. "So much of the best work is rooted in local culture. If you don't understand what exactly Wayne Rooney means, or you've never heard 'computer says no', how can you possibly judge the ads?" Dave Dye, the creative director at Dye Holloway Murray, asks. "It will bias D&AD awards to easily understood work that is not necessarily the best work."

It's a plausible argument, but one that just does not stand scrutiny, Charles Inge, the executive creative director of CHI & Partners and a member of this year's D&AD poster jury, says. "Yes, 'St Wayne' was probably the best British poster of last year. But 'disturbing' isn't necessarily 'great'. Everyone on the jury understood it completely. Having worked with them, I can tell you they were a really smart bunch of people who knew their stuff, and they felt that other posters had greater merit."

But there is also a feeling that global juries are somehow more "expedient" in their judgments. "D&AD acquired its reputation because it always had the most rigorous judging process. I fear that it will become more political and less objective," another senior creative says. "It feels like D&AD has forgotten what it is for and has embarked on building an empire abroad at our expense."

On the face of it, this sounds like the self-interested whinging of a parochial, slightly jingoistic, pampered special-interest group. As you might expect, D&AD firmly rejects accusations of empire building, and says that its expansion will not result in more bland work being rewarded.

"We haven't broadened our scope as some sort of greedy business expansion, but in response to a call from the marketplace," the D&AD chairman, Anthony Simmonds-Gooding, says. "For at least five years, we have been getting more and more entries from abroad, and we are simply responding to that pressure," he explains.

A quick glance at D&AD stats confirms his point. But it is far from the whole story.

In 2000, D&AD had 22,000 entries - 11,000 were from abroad and 11,000 from the UK. By 2007, the total number of entries had gone up by 15 per cent to 25,000. But 16,750, or two thirds, were from abroad - an increase of around 50 per cent. Tellingly, however, UK entries declined to just 8,250 - a drop of nearly 25 per cent over seven years.

So, yes, foreign entries have risen dramatically. But at the same time, domestic entries have fallen. While you may ask why D&AD has suffered such a big domestic fall, you can hardly blame D&AD for following its customers.

Anyway, it'll be good for the industry, Simmonds-Gooding says. "If we hadn't changed, Campaign would be leading the complaints. British creativity is fantastic, but it is in danger of resting on its laurels. It needs to come out of its comfort zone and be compared with the best of the rest of the world. Calls to keep D&AD domestic are frankly Raj mentality," he says. Besides, D&AD has something unique to offer, he argues: "Our brand is interested only in creative excellence. The reason we run the awards at all are to raise money for our other works and as a source of inspiration -not congratulation."

That D&AD is losing ground in the UK, in the advertising community at least, is not really in dispute. The question is, can it compensate by going international? A clear danger is that, in pursuing its foreign adventure, D&AD will lose further ground in its main market - the UK.

The creative community seems split on whether going global is really such a good idea for D&AD. One former D&AD president thinks it is a thoroughly bad strategy. "In the mid-90s, D&AD was on its last legs and has done well to come back from that. It's now a very well-run organisation," he says. "You can see its thinking. The marketing and communications has gone global, they are getting more and more foreign entries, so it makes a certain sense to expand the remit."

However, he adds: "The trouble is that going global cuts it off from its emotional heartland and takes it into head-on competition with a superior rival - Cannes. I worry that it isn't experienced enough with the right business structure and management to compete with a very slick competitor, and may end up as a half-baked imitation."

D&AD has been insufficiently sharp in its product development and its market analysis, he claims. It may have its rigorous judging and "the book", but one thing it will never be able to compete with is the glamour of Cannes. "For years Cannes was a shallow consolation for big agencies not good enough to get into D&AD. But now it has come good and D&AD simply isn't sharp enough to compete. It should stick to its knitting," he says.

Others take a more positive view of D&AD's move. It is good not only for D&AD, but also for Creative Circle and the UK creative industries as a whole, Inge argues. "If we can make D&AD a centre of excellence, a place for the world's greatest design, then D&AD will be much stronger for it. It can become Cannes with integrity. If the UK can own that space, it will underline and reinforce our world-leading position and we'll all benefit."

Even Creative Circle it seems. "It's an award that has always struggled to find a place. The move into D&AD's (domestic) shoes can only be good for it, too," Inge concludes.

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