Mark Wnek on advertising

Imagination brings you kudos, but not the cold, hard cash
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This week the ad world is checking out something called the Gunn Report, an annual American-based survey of worldwide advertising awards competitions. Run by self-appointed scorekeeper Donald Gunn, a Leo Burnett US adman, the report looks at awards won in just over 50 advertising awards shows. Gunn gives awards different scores, resulting in league tables revealing the world's most "creative" agencies and groups.

According to the report, the most "creative" groups this year were DDB Worldwide, followed by TBWA Worldwide and BBDO Worldwide.

But when you look at business surveys at least as authoritative as Gunn's, DDB, despite its alleged creativity, was well outside the worldwide top 10 in new business wins. In other words, advertising awards as they are currently judged have little or no bearing on business success.

There was a time when judging advertising for awards purposes was a reasonably straightforward business, when work such as the brilliant Benson & Hedges Gold campaign in the 1970s was so bold and clear and compelling that everybody loved and noticed it.

The existence of this kind of bold and conspicuous work has waned over the decades in direct relation to the increased "businessification" of ad agencies. In the money-grubbing 1980s, ad agencies started to make so much money that creativity - ironically the ad agencies' raison d'être - began to take a back seat to financial management.

Today, true creative people in ad agencies feel increasingly marginalised. Whereas these talented people once had free rein to express themselves across all brands and products, most now feel they can do so only in areas where the clients and agency suits have limited expertise and are thus prepared to back off - areas such as youth-related brands; or areas where impact is all and budgets are limited, such as small or start-up brands or charities.

Hence most major awards tend to go to clients such as Nike, MTV, Levi's, NSPCC, or obscure things nobody has ever really heard of. At international awards in Cannes, for instance, US commercials for local TV stations and Swedish posters for tattooists usually do well.

Awards competitions are the last bastions against the intrusion of business, where creative people can lionise their "art" unconstrained by commercial considerations. Criteria for victory have now become eccentric if not esoteric, removed from the real world in which advertising is supposed to function and be commercially effective.

Advertising with tiny or absent product logos does well in awards competitions. Ads in which the product barely appears do well. Stuff which is cool and groovy and young does well. Work which is original for the sake of originality alone does well. Commercials directed by directors with Hollywood or underground cachet do well. Advertising which is antisocial or offensive does well. Work which is little more than a sponsored joke does well. Work which is wild and crazy and incomprehensible does well.

Nearly all of the above advertising has as its sine qua non a would-be avant-garde but in reality highly narrow-minded aesthetic of cool - narrow-minded because it's not designed for anyone above the age of 24. That's leaving out quite a lot of people with quite a lot of money to spend. Like the whole of Middle England (and Middle America) for instance.

The charm, wit and clarity required to pry open Middle England's wallet are looked down upon by the young and/or militant creative people who constitute most ad awards juries. Far more pathetic are the older more experienced jurors who also shun work with the above qualities in a desperate attempt to look groovy and in touch - the kind of 45-year-olds who wear leather trousers.

Marketeers, however, are a different breed entirely. To them the consumer is, of course, king or queen. More than ever they require business-oriented creativity, aka stuff that sells. The fact that you've won a Golden Nipple for the best 20-second commercial based on a prize-winning cartoon from the Czech Republic is unlikely to cut much ice with the car manufacturer needing to shift tons of metal to 40-year-old sales reps in the West Midlands.

Right there is your explanation for the disparity between ad agencies' success in so-called creative advertising awards, and their relative lack of success in the real, grown-up world of business.

The latter world needs genuine creativity now more than ever. And that doesn't mean some skinheaded alumnus of Glasgow Art College fighting to make the logo smaller.

Rupert stops turkeys but loses Bacardi

I'm not a great fan of Rupert Howell's. It could be something to do with his Olympic gold medals for superciliousness. My issue is entirely personal though. Because Howell, CEO of McCann-Erickson UK, is one of the top admen of all time and the agency he founded - Howell Henry, Chaldecott Lury (HHCL) - was voted best agency of the 1990s.

After leaving HHCL and its holding company, Chime, where he was chairman, Howell set up something outside of advertising called the Growth Consultancy, which folded seconds later. Howell then went back to what he does best: advertising.

Or so he thought, because McCann-Erickson is not exactly an ad agency, as he would know it - it's a behemoth, about as touchy-feely as Ann Widdecombe.

After a year of internal fire-fighting and external repositioning, McCann this week lost Bacardi, one of its big clients. And now the knives are being jangled in their sheathes.

Whatever one thinks of Howell, he is a brilliant operator and has brought on board others of the same calibre - my mate Robert Campbell and the new business firebrand Christian Hinchcliffe.

It is a truism in Adland that giant, essentially money-making cultures like McCann can never be rendered sexy, but the new management have already stemmed the flow of creative turkeys and the work in general looks much, much better.

But knowing the McCann US management as I do - I turned down the job of creative director two years ago - winning business and making money are their favourite things.

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