Challenging the Awards Season
Does the investment the marketing industry makes in awards really deliver the right kind of return
Awards submissions represent one of the highest levels of internal discretionary spend in media and marketing companies.
Winning awards, it is thought, confers not only business success on the larger scale, but support the ambitions and motivations of key talent as they advance their careers.
But does reality meet expectations?
There's little doubt to the objectives set as the awards season approaches:
- Raising the company profile
- Establishing authority and credibility
- Improving company morale
- Driving new customer acquisition
- Increasing customer retention
With such a clear set of measurable criteria, judging the benefits of the investment should be simple.
However, research suggests that there is little correlation between measurable factors (such as winning or retaining clients) and marketing awards.
So where does it go wrong?
Beware the Cargo Cults
It's impossible to talk about Awards Shows without talking about Cargo Cults.
If you're not familiar with Cargo Cults we return to 1953, when Britain's newly minted monarch Queen Elizabeth set forth to visit the remnants of her empire, travelling the world in the royal yacht Britannia.
In time she came to the vast island archipelagos of the South Pacific, where she was bemused to be greeted by islanders painted all in green, with delicately tattooed stars and stripes upon their shoulders. They guarded palm frond aeroplanes with driftwood rifles, and searched the airwaves for signals sporting coconut headphones in bamboo control towers.They were waiting for cargo. And for them, it made total sense.
Having witnessed the American forces performing apparently identical rituals only ten years previously when they fought Japanese Imperial forces across the Pacific, they fully anticipated the wave upon wave of cargo planes the Americans had successfuly called down from the gods on high - but alas it was all to no avail.
As each fruitless year passed, rather than lose their motivation, they redoubled their efforts and intensified their faith until the cargo cults were born. Pointless rituals chasing imaginary prizes with a fervour that would rival David Koresh.
And thus the threat when it comes to awards season.
Challenging the Ritual
Acolytes of Marketing Awards rituals cite client demand, but when clients are asked what they seek in an agency they call for flexibility and fair pricing, they seek business strategy, creative thinking, consumer insights and data analysis.
Awards don't feature.
The high priests of the 'golden pumpkin' cite profile and popularity, but clients can only name the winners that got it wrong.
Initiates of the 'platinum biro' cite authority and credibility, in an environment where the three dozen awards shows annually in South East Asia alone hand out fifteen times the amount of awards than there are clients in the top two hundred list.
But if there is no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, then there are no cargo planes full of client campaigns. If there was a meaning to these rituals they may be lost in the mists of time.
If you intend to enter awards, then you must ensure there is more on show than marketing directors in war paint, toting driftwood rifles around bamboo aeroplanes.