Fine Feathers Fly at the Loeries

Chris GotzArticle originally found in the Sunday Times – Words by Chris Gotz

The ad industry hit the headlines for the wrong reasons this week and, at times, it looked like a particularly fast moving episode of Generations.

It all started a few weeks ago, when SA’s ad people got dressed up (or dressed down, if you were really, like, cool) to celebrate the annual Loerie Awards. Ad agency Metropolitan Republic did rather well, winning the Grand Prix for mega client MTN. Their campaign, ‘Project Uganda’, was an inspired idea that gave Ugandan schoolchildren access to much needed books via virtual libraries displayed in newspaper ads. Using their mobile phones they were able to download the books via USSD technology. “Genius” pronounced the judges in several Loeries’ categories. It was one of the most popular ideas of the festival, and I sang its praises in these pages two weeks ago.

But the agency barely had time to display the trophies in their minimalist foyer when they received a call from Loerie Awards CEO Andrew Human requesting they return them. It seems the agency hadn’t actually completed the project. Nor had they run the press ads in the Ugandan newspapers. Nor had any Ugandan schoolchildren accessed much-needed books. Further speculation by geeks in the media revealed the technology behind the idea wasn’t really possible.

The Loeries issued a press release on the awards’ recall and the agency, Metropolitan Republic, issued a release accepting responsibility for the transgression. They blamed the slip, although it was more of a swan dive into an empty pool than a mere slip, on over-zealous junior staffers who failed to clear the entry with senior execs. While that seemed vaguely plausible, the agency had been entering the work into various awards shows since March, and seven months seems a long time for senior people to be blissfully unaware of what was a fairly high profile and innovative piece of work.

Cue much huffing and puffing and tweeting and sub-tweeting and, finally, an unseemly scuffle between Human and senior execs from Metropolitan Republic on a Sunday morning radio show. The row rumbles on, fuelled by speculation and much rubbernecking on the part of the rest of the industry.

The issues kicked up by this unfortunate bun fight are many, but none is more relevant than the role of gongs and trophies in the ad industry. There is a constant barrage of criticism directed at ad people about the awards culture, much of it negative. It may be the case, as with Metropolitan Republic (and this is by no means exclusive to them), that agencies will sometimes push too hard to win awards. When the tail furiously begins to wag the dog, with agencies producing work specifically to chase awards, rather than the commercial success of their clients, then the strangeness sets in – sometimes they run work that has not been approved by clients, sometimes they create elaborate television campaigns for small bookshops.

Awards shows police this fairly strictly. Media plans for the campaigns entered are often requested, some ask for letters from clients accompanying all the work entered. The Loeries have a long list of rules and regulations so, by the time the judges see the work, they are accepting on good faith that what they are judging is real. They are looking largely at the quality of the idea, not asking questions about why the Ugandan schoolchildren appear to be sitting in classrooms in South Africa, or why some of the books in the print ads appear to have little use for Ugandan primary schoolchildren : “A history of Kwaito”; “How to play the guitar”; “Elementary principles of calculus”. Or indeed, as some keen hacks discovered, why some of the books displayed did not exist at all.

All of this should not be allowed to diminish the value and real purpose of rewarding and recognising the very best work in our industry. Cannes Lions, the papa bear of ad award shows, has become increasingly important. This year 5,000 of the 12,000 delegates were clients with blue chip giants like Coke, Google and Unilever sponsoring seminars and workshops. Ultimately the winning work is what everyone is there to see and the juries try to find the pieces that push the industry forward, that explore new tricks springing forth from old dogs.

New categories like Mobile, PR, Viral Film and Branded Content and Entertainment show just how rapidly the world of communications, media and marketing is changing and the awards shows are the best places to see the work that really reflects that change. The work that wins big, the Grand Prix winners, are held up as the important torchbearers of things to come, the glorious outliers on the edge of what is possible.

It’s no coincidence that the agencies which regularly collect awards for their work are often the same ones most sought after by clients around the world. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. A study carried out by the U.K.’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising claims to prove a direct link between creativity and effectiveness. The IPA examined 213 case studies over a period of eight years, including campaigns by Cadbury, Volkswagen, Budweiser, Honda, Audi and Orange, and calculated that creatively awarded campaigns were 11 times more effective than those without jury accolades – whether you’re a large corporation or a small independent retailer, that’s an extremely powerful multiplier.

So the Loeries should continue to be a valuable beacon of excellence for South African marketers and agencies, although Andrew Human has already hinted at more vigilant and stringent entry requirements, because creativity in advertising, as celebrated by award shows all over the world, will continue to be the single most powerful thing any business can use to transform its bottom line.

Tell the guys in procurement to put that in their briar pipes and smoke

A look at the 2013 Loerie Awards

Article originally found in the Sunday Times – Words by Chris Gotz

Chris_Gotz2A newspaper ad that turned into a library; a calendar that became a fire retardant blanket and a tweeting badger – these were just some of the winning ideas on show at the 35th Annual Loerie Awards, staged last weekend.

Over 5000 marketing and advertising people, in various interesting interpretations of black tie and formal dress, converged on the Cape Town International Convention Centre for South Africa’s premier creative awards show.

The Loeries have grown up considerably over the years. The glorified Vegas-style debauchery of yesteryear, while not completely absent, has been replaced by a very slick series of events celebrating a far greater range of disciplines than mainstream advertising and now stretching right across the continent. Beyond the awards ceremonies, the Festival of Creativity has gathered real momentum with seminars, an Expo, student showcases and some other, more spontaneous events, usually inspired by caramel vodka and herbal infusions.

When it came to the two nights of awards, the seismic shifts brought on by the digital revolution and a rapidly changing consumer and media environment were well in evidence, but it remains clear to everyone that, in spite of the contemporary complexity, a single good idea executed well still can transform a sales curve in an instant.

On the first evening, devoted mostly to print and digital, the “Everywhere Library” for MTN by Metropolitan Republic was awarded a Gold Loerie. The full page prints ads were a clever intersection of old and new, as a newspaper ad in Uganda promoted access to books on mobile phones via USSD technology. The big prize of the night, the Grand Prix for Outdoor, came from Draftfcb in Cape Town for Engen with a, literally, life-saving idea: a calendar printed on a fire retardant blanket which shack dwellers, the biggest users of Engen’s paraffin products, could usefully hang up for an emergency.

In the digital category, where South Africa has for some years lumbered along behind the rest of the world, there was some really strong work. A tweeting badger won Loeries for Draftfcb and their client, the Johannesburg Zoo. It was a really smart, fun idea: the animal’s enclosure (we can’t call it a cage anymore) was rigged to fire off tweets as the badger moved around. Volkswagen’s Street Quest work from Ogilvy Cape Town was also a big winner and it picked up the other Grand Prix on the night, in the digital category. This online game encouraged players to find and pin VW’s inside Google Streetview – a digital treasure hunt that rewarded players with a chance to play the game live on the streets of Cape Town for mega prizes. International Judge Debbie Vandeven described it as an “iconic” piece of work.

The Sunday night awards were all about TV and Radio. The evening was hosted by John Vlismas and Dineo Moeketsi, who moved things along at a fair clip. Vlismas in particular read the notoriously tough crowd pretty well and hurled a torrent of mildly abusive banter in their direction. It was well received, apart from an especially below-the-belt Reeva Steenkamp joke which drew one of the biggest collective gasps of the year.

Radio continues to be South Africa’s strongest medium creatively. International Judge Geoffrey Hantson underlined this when he said it was the best radio work he had ever heard, making special mention of our writing and production skills. That’s good news because radio remains one of the most cost-effective ways to reach millions of people in SA. Independent agency FoxP2 collected the Grand Prix for their long-running campaign for life insurer – it’s difficult to write fun, sassy ads about death, but they managed it. Mercedes-Benz also collected Gold Loeries for their radio work, once again reminding everyone why their agency, Network BBDO, is considered the best in the world in the medium (which is pretty extraordinary if you think about it.)

Television is still where marketers are placing nearly 60% of their bets. It probably wasn’t a vintage year for South African television advertising, a continuing trend of recent times caused by a combination of dwindling budgets, global brand dictates and lacklustre ideas – but the signs were there, in amongst a series of funny, well-written winners, that we’re finding our groove again.

The Ster Kinekor “Intersection” from FoxP2 (who had a very good night all in all) won gold for taking viewers on a thrilling ride as four out-of-control trucks hurtled towards a crossroads, only to stop before the thrilling climax with a message to watch the finale on the big screen to get the full effect.

The other Gold winners were enfant terrible musicians Die Antwoord for their video “Fatty Boom Boom” which features the mauling of a Lady Gagga lookalike by a rogue urban lion, among other curiosities. It’s quite brilliant, although somewhat disturbing. 

The final Grand Prix of the weekend went to Metropolitan Republic for their “Everywhere Library” (mentioned earlier) piece for MTN in Uganda. It picked up on a trend that is rippling through the ad world globally at the moment – investing heavily in ideas that do something for the common good as well as the bottom line. While this outbreak of goodwill might largely be attributed to a smart business strategy, it’s still a good thing for our industry and society in general.

At the end of it all, the winners gulped down their tequila and those that didn’t win, well, they gulped down tequila too, while the industry cool kids bobbed their painstakingly crafted hair frantically to international DJ’s.

LoerieThe industry big hitters, clients and agency bosses alike, probably concluded that the 2013 Loeries reflected a good year for the South African creative industry. Not a great year, but a good one nonetheless. While that may please some, the oft repeated maxim of many Creative Directors in the business bears repeating: good is the enemy of great. Better luck next year everyone.

Chris Gotz is Executive Creative Director at Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town, Chairperson of the Creative Circle and a member of the Loeries Committee.