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“The industry’s dirty little secret” – a cynic’s view of advertising’s Axis Awards

Last week the advertising world came together for its annual night of backslapping at the Viaduct Events Centre. But the Axis Awards are more than just an excuse for a booze-up, says an anonymous creative director – they can make or break careers.

The Axis Awards show: the night when advertising creatives swap their Chuck Taylors for dress shoes and find out who amongst them will be getting pay rises in the coming year. At such award shows, and at the whim of judges, whole careers can be made and lost over the course of the evening. Because in advertising, sadly, awards mean a lot. They mean so much that agencies even create unwanted ads, self-funding them purely to win these precious awards. It’s the industry’s dirty little secret. It’s the drug that keeps it going. And in a creative industry like advertising, you need something like awards to to feed the voracious egos of creative types – much like the Oscars exist to placate Hollywood’s own sense of importance.

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Winner!!!

You see, creative people need reassurance. For creatives in the ad industry there’s nothing like a bit of recognition from your peers. These bright shiny trophies are what keeps them going in between the repetitive chew-up and spit-out cycle of their day to day work. Awards shows were invented to pander to the ego of these types.

Plus, they’re an incredible money-making machine. My dad always said “If you want to make some serious coin, son, then start a church. Better still, start a new advertising awards show.” Dad’s right. There’s a plethora of ad awards shows throughout the world, with a brand new one launching every other month to lure the bright-eyed advertising creative. From the lofty heights of Cannes to whatever the Chip Shop Awards are, there’s an awards show for you, and a lump of metal that goes with it. Young advertising creatives obsess over picking up that metal – it’s what future careers are built on. It’s proof that they’re good at their jobs. The more metal the merrier the monthly pay slip.

It’s well known that a certain agency has a full-time staff member who does nothing but organise its award entries, spending well into five figures per year on videos and entry fees, all while other employees are being made redundant. Fame first, people second.

But it’s a double-edged sword. The head-down obsession over awards can often lead agencies to ignore the business of advertising. They’re good at writing case studies and crafting awards entries, but pretty crap at doing actual advertising. Because, as the older advertising creatives will tell you, there’s more to the job than a list of awards. Just quietly though, even the oldest and most jaded creative still hungers for the limelight. “There’s nothing wrong with a short walk and a handshake, and a bit of metal to make sure you’re still relevant in the industry, son.”

A busy team of young creatives, yesterday.

A busy team of young creatives, yesterday.

So did this year’s Axis Awards launch careers and revive old ones? Of course! Up the front of the room there were enough group shots of triumphant ad people fist-pumping and duck-facing to fill the social pages. The young ones’ eyes were full of wonder – their worlds had just opened up. And if all goes well for them they’ll probably be lured by a bigger agency to repeat this year’s performance for them.

The older winners just looked relieved. They’d manage to justify their already large salaries, and hang on to their jobs for another year or two. It’s no secret that Saatchi & Saatchi have been struggling of late, but their highly coveted Grande AXIS for ASB Bank will ensure their client stays in the fold for another wee while. Their Creative Directors will also be breathing a sigh of relief between fist pumps – the agency’s going “through a bit of change” right now.

Y&R would have walked away happy too. They’d manage to finally sell a campaign that had been reportedly sitting in the creative’s bottom drawer for years, just waiting for that opportunity to sell it in. The McWhopper idea for World Peace Day was audacious. Too audacious for the client to sink their own money into? We’ll never really know. But that doesn’t matter, because with a haul of metal the agency’s back on the map.

There was much shaking of heads as the scammier awards-bait ads made their appearances. VW’s Reduce Speed Dial is a great idea, but don’t let the fact that it never actually made it into production get in the way of a good story. We’re still waiting for the same agency’s Brewtroleum to become a real viable thing too.

Whilst the awards were being handed out the rest of the room caught up with the same people they caught up with last year. The toilets were busy as film companies tried to drum up some decent work. The conversations usually go the same way: “When was the last time you shot a TVC?” comes the question. The budding director’s face droops. “We shoot content too…”

Buy hey, everyone needs a pat on the back. Getting recognition for a job well done is something all of us humans appreciate. Be it an upwards nod from your Dad, a certificate of participation or a glitzy industry award, it makes us feel good. And for those of us who walked away empty-handed, we still got to eat some average duck, wear the suit, and crawl back to work on Friday wearing our trusty Chuck Taylors.

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