Should awards accept scam ads?

Has the time come for creative awards organisers across the world to open their doors to the scam ads they find perpetually difficult to stop slipping under the wire?

At one time, it would have been unthinkable to even pose the question. Today, some are asking if creativity and innovation can be properly honoured unless the rules are relaxed to allow in work that has never been approved by a client or run.

Now the controversy has been further fuelled by Bob Greenberg, the R/GA co-founder and a former Cannes Lions jury president. He believes that if scam work is innovative enough, jurors should be allowed to judge it.

"Something may not be real but it still may be very innovative, so we give it a break sometimes based on that, not knowing whether or not it’s completely real," he told a live video Google Hangout. His comments quickly attracted flak.

Publicis Chemistry’s executive creative director, David Prideaux, wrote on Campaign’s website this week: "The real achievement of advertising is to use storytelling to meet sales targets. Anything that undermines this undermines the whole industry."


Tham Khai Meng, worldwide chief creative officer, Ogilvy & Mather

"It always surprises me to hear people defend scam ads. It doesn’t surprise me that they do them or try to get away with them because that’s only human. But I don’t see how you can defend them because they are quite clearly cheating. It’s just too easy to be cutting edge and brave when you are your own client. Making fake ads is shooting fish in a barrel. If it were not the case, why do people lie when asked ‘Did it run?’ It’s because all respect for the achievement evaporates if they admit it never ran."


Tim Lindsay, chief executive, D&AD

"Scam ads are the equivalent of drug-taking in cycling and athletics. Everybody knows it goes on and that  drugs produce ‘winners’. But they make the whole thing a complete waste of everybody’s time. They not only spread like a virus but there’s always a danger that they will call genuine work into question. The real problem is markets like Brazil that have conservative clients and a talented creative community frustrated at not being able to strut its stuff. But that can only be an explanation and not an excuse for scam ads. I believe awards organisers will hold the line."


Matthew Bull, founder, The Bull-White House

"The rules need to be relaxed a bit. That doesn’t mean advertising submitted for awards shouldn’t have a purpose. If it doesn’t, then it is meaningless and unreal. Yet the fact remains that awards are more about big rather than brilliant campaigns – and that’s edging out a lot of talented people. Of course any work submitted for an award must be approved by the client and have been seen by consumers. But that might just be via a clever piece of social media. We can’t be seen to be making stuff simply for our own benefit. That goes against all we stand for."


John Hunt, worldwide creative director, TBWA\Worldwide

"This is a debate we keep having but the answer to it is simple. If an ad has been created just to win an award and has never run, then it shouldn’t be accepted. It’s important that the line is held. Scam ads that win creative awards are like Oscar-winning movies that were never shown in cinemas. We’re in the business of creating work that evokes a response. You’re on a slippery slope when award-winning ads no longer have to prove themselves in the marketplace. Ads are contracts between us and our clients. Take that away and it isn’t advertising any more."

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