Thursday, January 14, 2016

Dear Mr. Kassai

Dear Mr. Kassai,

It’s been many a rapt audiences that I’ve been a part of listening to you talk passionately about how our business is to make brands and products relevant, and advertising is just one way of doing it. I’ve long admired your work and your rise through the industry, and also aspired to be a good copywriter, who one day might have a shot at being great.

With you at DDB’s wheel, DDB became the aspirational agency, specially given that Volkswagen was still your client after all these years since the legendary Lemon ad. As you’ve mentioned yourself, each DDB office is probably the most awarded in its region, the network having won more Grand Prixs that any other in the world.

And while I started reading your latest article titled ‘The End of False Recognitions’ with great enthusiasm, it’s hard for me to agree to what’s written without a healthy dose of salt.

I agree to your points about awards not being a yardstick for creative effectiveness. I also agree that most creatives give up our integrity without question to make fancy case videos that have nothing to do with the real world or even the client’s business, just to please a jury, as you so apt put. It’s not a sign of talent in advertising.

And then came for your call for agencies to to disinvest from the award shows madness. While you surprisingly didn’t say we won’t see any DDB in any award show - being the captain of the ship - you did say we will see DDB less and less in those lists. Can be it because hundreds of your individual agency leaders, their thousands of CDs and many thousands of creative won’t buy into this movement without some convincing? I can only guess.

While I’d like to buy into your belief and even into the vision you’ve set for DDB and the entire advertising industry as a whole, allow me to suggest what it looks like from the bottom of the food chain, from the point of view of a copywriter who this article might be targeted at.

As far as I understand, how the growth of creatives works is - we work in an agency for a few years. Most agencies hardly give us big raises irrespective of our performance. The only way to get ahead is to ‘win’ awards and switch jobs. That’s what most of my counterparts have done, who are now at cushy positions. That’s what you did once too, I’m assuming. Not that you and they didn’t make good work. Not that good work doesn’t pay. It just doesn’t pay if your conservative clients don’t buy it, or if it never gets produced because the ‘business requirements have changed’.  

And then, when you apply to agencies to get a new job and after the few initial rounds you tell them how much money you want, you’re told ‘that’s how much money creatives make here when they have five lions”. The conversation is no longer about experience, or produced work. And most sadly, it’s never about brave work that got shot down by conservative clients. (I’m not saying DDB is like this. In my country DDB doesn’t even return emails.)

All I’m saying is, when you’re a copywriter who makes less than 50k euros a year, the conversation about money without awards, and hence the choice to stay away from awards becomes very very difficult.

My question to myself would be - would I rather see most of my good ideas shot down in the real world or see at least a few of them alive in the ‘fake’ world?

And my question to you would be, isn’t your speech just another example of how we prefer making money by keeping our clients happy, over great creative work that gives us creative satisfaction in the first place?

If you want creatives to have integrity and believe in the real creative business, you have to first create a path for them to grow without having to worry about awards. You have to make their existence easier. For most of us it’s sink or swim. And we will do what it takes to survive.

And finally, winning awards is not a yardstick for creative effectiveness. No sir, it isn’t.

But that’s not to say winning awards is not a yardstick for creative capability.

To me, the award shows have always been like fashion shows. Most of the stuff you see up there isn’t what’s gonna work in the real world.

But it does showcase new trends and open new doors in the the business, and make creatives famous overnight. More often than not it’s helped me liberate my thinking and grow as a creative. It’s made me go - and I’m sure I’m not alone in this - why didn’t I think of this? It’s made me kick myself when I see someone else work on a similar brief who did something I hadn’t thought of.

At the cost of sounding grossly mistaken, I think that without award shows most agencies wouldn’t have a creative ‘lab’, most agencies would do what the client asks for, most ‘real’ work produced would be really really average, and most creatives would be frustrated misfits who would question their career choices more often than they take smoke breaks. Because I’m sure you know well enough, being a copywriter yourself, clients shooting down brave ideas doesn’t get easier with any number of years in the industry.

IMHO, it would be a real waste of real talent.

Besides, most clients I have worked for have shown an active interest in the healthy PR they generate from winning awards as well. As far as I understand, it helps them and their business grow, and award shows open the marketers’ minds as well. I’m sure you’re not unfamiliar with studies that show the direct correlation between the number of awards a brand has won and the increase in their business.

I do agree with Mr. Bernbach though, “If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you and nobody for you.”

Well, this was me standing for the way things appear from where I’m standing.

Hope you’re having a nice day. Thanks for listening.


A bottom-of-the-food-chain Copywriter

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