Are Awards Broken?

Increasingly, awards competitions aim to recognize work in interactive, integrated and emerging media, but many believe the structure of such contests isn’t keeping up with dramatic changes in the advertising industry.

Challenges include the complexity of examining interactive elements in an integrated context, the time-consuming nature of some interactive campaigns and the difficulty of keeping up with emerging campaign forms.

Because of the siloed division of awards — one award for each medium — integrated campaigns may not be seen holistically.

“The problem with the awards is that they represent the state of the industry, which is siloed,” said Paul Woolmington, chairman and CEO of Media Kitchen. “This segregation of disciplines is inherent in our industry.”

Broken into their component parts, campaigns may lose the synergies that make them worthy of awards. Universal McCann President and CEO Nick Brien, speaking at a panel discussion hosted by the Clio Awards, said he’s seen some unbelievable content fall short in judging because the jury was not looking at all elements together.

But not all industry executives agree campaigns need to, or even should, be judged as a whole.

“This is not new for interactive. It’s true with print and TV,” AKQA executive creative director, PJ Pereira, who heads the 2006 Cannes Cyber Lions jury, told ClickZ News. “The consumer sees a single [placement] at a time, they don’t see the whole package together.”

Another challenge for awards in the interactive world is the time commitment required of jurors. Judging single categories, particularly interactive ones, is already time intensive. To evaluate all the pieces of numerous campaigns would require even more of a commitment.

“You can judge a traditional print ad in ten seconds; a television commercial in 30 to 60 seconds,” Doug Jaeger, creative director of The Happy Corp, who has chaired juries for the One Club Interactive and the Art Director’s Club. “A lot of these interactive pieces that people are developing require more time and more effort. It becomes a real job to judge.”

But Pereira argues that judges rushing through the evaluation of Web sites may experience something similar to what the consumer does.

“The consumer doesn’t have time either,” Pereira said. “Putting judges under such pressure for time rushing through all those sties, it may sound disrespectful to the creative team, but you have to consider then the customer is going to be disrespectful, too.”

Another difficulty with interactive campaigns is keeping pace with emerging forms of media. “With interactive the innovation is happening on a monthly basis,” said Jaeger.

Existing categories don’t leave room for campaigns that break new ground. The BMW series “The Hire” is one example of revolutionary content. “It’s the stuff of legend,” said Woolmington. “They are uncategorizable because there’s nothing like it. How do you allow it to come to the surface?”

As one potential solution, some associations assemble juries from varied disciplines to judge integrated. Jaeger noted that some groups, including the Webby Awards, have assembled such committees to judge integrated campaigns. “That’s different from the borg mentality of The One Show where they bring together 25 people to judge,” he said.

To address the silo issue, some suggest removing categories for a year to see how the juries group entries.

“You’ve got 25 categories and 25 formats,” said Woolmington. “Maybe in the way to do it is have a year where you are unstructured and say everything goes. Then have the jury categorize.”

Like Pereira, Woolmington suggested creating awards to reflect the way consumers experience campaigns. “[Categories aren’t] reflected by the way campaigns are broken down by consumers,” he said.

Despite all the challenges, some feel awards shows are serving a worthy purpose. “Each award show has its own special personality,” said Pereira. “They all have a reason for being that way. It’s important to the industry that they all keep doing what they’re doing.”

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