Do advertising awards matter?

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Do advertising awards matter? It seems like a no-brainer of a question. If someone wins an award, no matter what their industry, that means that their work was exceptional, dazzling, impressive. It means they did their job and did it well, and advertising is no different. Or is it? 

It’s a trickier question than you might think. Anyone can see why awards are desirable, both for agencies and their clients. Boasting creative awards can help an agency recruit top talent, and that talent could in turn impact the quality of service your campaign receives. Winning awards also boosts the morale of the existing employees – after all, who doesn’t get a rush of excitement when they find out that their hard work is being recognized? It never hurts to have something worth bragging about – and obviously, having motivated people working on your campaign is always a good thing for everyone involved.  

Awards can also help you as a potential client make a choice between agencies, because they’re an easily understood metric for success. If given the choice between two agencies that had seemingly identical capabilities, but one of them had a shelf full of awards, you’d probably be tempted to choose the award-winning agency. And that’s understandable – awards mean prestige, and a job well done.  

But advertising awards come with a catch – and it’s a pretty big one. Let’s take a peek behind that awards show curtain. 

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The problem with advertising awards 

Here’s the thing about awards: they aren’t set up to tell you about what really matters to you as a client. Agencies don’t win awards for the most successful campaign, the best customer service, most challenging obstacle overcome, etc. In some cases, award-winning campaigns weren’t all that successfulor didn’t even run at all. 

Key Element

Fun fact – yes, there are real categories in some awards shows for ads that never ran.

Agencies win awards for having well-designed creatives that impress a particular room of particular people at a particular time. That’s it. Unfortunately, that means that sometimes advertising awards are little more than a beauty contest – even at times resulting in visually impressive creatives winning non-visual categories, over and above more deserving work. (In many cases, an ad with clever copy and so-so design is less likely to win a writing award than a knockout ad with mediocre copy.) Campaign results are not factored in, nor is the client’s satisfaction. What usually gets the win is getting judges to say “wow, that looks cool!” 

Beauty Contest

 All this means that chasing awards can sometimes lead to agencies pitching ads that they know will wow a room full of advertising bigwigs; performance is an afterthought. Being clever is great. Delivering performance is better – much better. Much like movie reviews, what impresses critics is not always the same as what drives results. 

And at the end of the day, aren’t results what you’re really after? If you had to choose between having your brand’s campaign either win an award or drive huge results for your business, the choice would be clear. The attention from winning an advertising award is flattering, but it’s also fleeting, and can be more about puffing up your ad agency than about driving sales for you. When you give money to an agency, you never want to have to worry: are they going to do what’s best for me, or are they just going to do whatever would make them look better to an awards committee? Are they going to put my dollars to work for me, or for themselves? 

It’s a sad truth that advertising awards tend to be pay-to-play. It costs money (and time) to put your work up for consideration, and then it typically costs even more money to attend the relevant events, galas, etc. That’s not to say that this money is always a waste – award shows can be an opportunity for agencies to get themselves out there in front of potential clients – but it does suggest an agency’s priorities. 

We’re not asking you to discount awards completely, but rather to give you a realistic picture of what they’re judging – and to show that that may not necessarily line up with your business goals. 

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What you should look for in a media agency 

We know it can be difficult to determine which agency is right for you. But as a starting point, here are some questions you should ask – and they have nothing to do with awards: 

  • Who have you worked with? 
  • What are your capabilities? 
  • What kind of results have you gotten for others, and what kind of results can I expect? 

(For a deeper dive into this topic, here are 8 questions you should ask your next media agency.)

The bottom line: awards are nice, but they’re not everything. We’d never shame anyone for pursuing recognition for their efforts, but an agency’s primary aim should always be to help you reach your goals and do the best work. If that work wins an award on the way, great! But don’t let shiny things distract you from the real prize – a committed agency partner who can help you strategize and achieve great results. 

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