Forum: Don’t throw the baby out with the fish paper

A cautionary tale for awards season.

It’s your wee baby (well, it’s your clients’, but they’re just the adopting parents). You’re the one who carried it for nine months, sweating endlessly in the nether regions, growing turnbuckles for ankles and riding dissociative mood swings that would have given Sybil vertigo. It’s your ad, your baby.

People around you wonder why you’re so ‘precious’ about your baby ad. You tersely remind them of the stillbirths that preceded it, the demise of those that barely learned to walk and the ads that bravely fulfilled their purpose only to be tossed aside.

‘Today’s ad wraps, tomorrow’s fish ‘n’ chips,’ one salty old ad guy once said. In other words, today’s ad, tomorrow’s fish paper.

But this one will be different. You will nurture it, you will coddle it and you will protect it with your every breath. And your dedication and perseverance will pay off because despite all the odds, your baby actually survives the perilous scrutiny of a hundred critiquing eyeballs.

To celebrate, you show your ad to family and friends and bask in their praise. Buoyed by that acclaim, you parade it online like a pampered debutante where it receives even greater praise from other beaten and battered creative peers around the world.

‘Smart baby, beautiful baby,’ you think to yourself.

It survived the gauntlet of approval. It received applause from industry folks. And it actually frickin’ ran. There is only one thing left to do. Time to enter it into a beauty contest.

You primp and prep your baby. You ensure it looks its best. You pay the king’s ransom to enter it in the show. And then you send it off into that black hole of judgment, waiting an excruciating eternity until the results finally arrive.

Then, nothing. You frantically search through the awards annual but your baby is nowhere to be found. You can’t comprehend. You were absolutely certain that this was the one that would strut its way up to the podium and get baptized by the jury. But you were wrong. And now when you look at it, once proudly pinned to the wall for all visitors to your cubicle to admire, your baby conjures nothing but bitterness and resentment.

‘Stupid baby, ugly baby,’ you think to yourself.

I love award shows. I covet their hardware. I envy their winners. I feel privileged to judge them. And I defend their honour when their validity is challenged. I feel tingly all over when my name, however seldom, is called.

What I hate about award shows is what they do to people – the bloated egos they inflate, the already fragile confidences they crush and the hopeless ‘I told you so’ glares they provoke from the majority of contestants, drowning in resignation at the bar.

Urban legend tells the story of one such drunkenly despondent senior creative sap. So bitter was this poor soul that he was found crouched in a corner, scraping the winner’s name off a stolen trophy with a salad fork from the buffet table. The only thing missing from the scene was his satin ‘runner-up’ sash, cheap mascara running down his cheek and a dented tiara askew on his head.

But at the risk of sounding far too maudlin for this cynical business, what I hate worst of all about award shows is how they can tarnish the memory of a great ad in an instant if it doesn’t win. How something as subjective as a creative jury can dilute the certainty of real success shared by all involved – be it improved sales, better market share, heightened brand awareness or simply that wonderful sense of camaraderie developed with a client in the creation of something great.

We work very hard at what we do. Yet despite the energy, time and expense we invest, the average fruit fly might have a longer life expectancy than an ad.

So when it does prevail, treasure your baby. Cherish those accolades your ad receives from family, friends and colleagues. Celebrate its real, meaningful and lasting success in the marketplace and embrace all those who helped you accomplish what you set out to achieve.

But if you do decide to tart up your baby with some sequins and perfume and shove it into the harsh limelight of a beauty contest, don’t just punt it to the curb if it doesn’t win.

It’s still your baby after all. Your smart, beautiful baby.

Craig Redmond is VP, creative director at Vancouver-based Concerto Marketing Group, where his remit includes cherishing ad babies in between penning columns on brain spatter tweets and llama spit.