The False Idol

The first Cannes Lion I ever won arrived at my desk in a small, heavy, somewhat-crushed box filled with styrofoam peanuts.

This was it. The shining beacon of creative acceptance I had pursued for years. The late nights, the pacing, the ambition all led here. Finally, I could join the club of people who could write articles like this. My opinion would now carry as much weight as the trophy itself.

The first thing I realized upon pulling it out of the box was that the nameplate had fallen off.

On the back, the name of the famed Parisian trophy manufacturer, applied with some sort of double-sided tape, was bent and askew.

Holding it brought an immediate sense of shame.

I had dedicated my past five years to this piece of crap? Had I worshiped a false idol?

There certainly is something religious about awards that can cause obsessive behavior. Creatives seek them in service of themselves, and not their clients. Agencies submit work that never ran. Too often, I saw agencies submit work from a made-up assignment, without any of the usual client demands, specifically designed to navigate the award show gauntlet. Juries would trade favors for one another. Awards drive ego, don’t always reflect whether or not the work was successful, and are expensive.

Does this mean they should be done away with?

Exactly the opposite.

If you want to know the best work being made in the world in any year, the bible remains Awards set the bar. They make you jealous. They inspire you to innovate. To challenge the status quo. They push an industry that is becoming increasingly business-driven and less creatively-driven.

It is the library of what advertising should be, not what it is. It tells you which agencies value ideas in place of profit. The agencies who have stopped submitting, claiming a broken system, are more likely trying to save money or creating excuses for their bad work.

In the coming years after my first Lion, I was shipped more awards, which I began to store under my desk. It wasn’t about crappy trophies or fuel for my ego. It was because I love good work, and hate bad work, and the awards remain the best way of being able to tell the difference.

Last month, Dunn&Co. won 39 local ADDY awards, including multiple best of shows. Each one of those awards made us more proud than any other, more prestigious awards others will win this year.

These awards represent acknowledgement that we are fighting the good fight. That we are aiming high. We don’t have the big budgets or the big clients of other agencies. We don’t have trophy shelves or award coordinators. We do it the old fashioned way: Every day, we are inspired to make the best, most interesting work we can with the tools we are given and the assignments we get. This is real work for local clients who have asked us for our best.

The awards are our confirmation that we’ve done that. No nameplates required.

– Mark Anderson, Creative Director at Dunn&Co.