How to create change one behavior at a time.

Do Awards Make Ad Agencies Better or Worse?

 We’ll admit it: We love winning awards. We like the praise. We like the attention. We like brandishing our fancy statues in front of a crowd like we’re Academy Award celebrities.

But are ADDYs, CLIOs, Emmys and the rest really making us better creatives? Or are they just putting us out of touch with consumers and clients as we strive to impress our peers?

There’s been a lot written about how awards lead to bad creative choices. But today (in the wake of our recent award haul), we’re making the case for the former.

Here are three ways advertising awards are a good thing.

1. Participating in awards makes you recognize the need to think differently. 

Take, for example, the subject of safety. How many safety posters have appeared over the years? Too many, we’re guessing. That’s why we worked with our client, the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), to build the deck of cards below to encourage safe and healthy behaviors for firefighters and EMTs.


NVFC Serve Strong playing cards

This deck of cards won a Gold ADDY last weekend. But that’s not where the learning took place. The lesson for every agency is looking through all the stuff that is NOT submitted — a reminded that too much looks like everything else.

Another example: The importance of dental hygiene during pregnancy. We knew the motivation for the mother was not so much her own health, but the baby’s. So in work for the American Academy of Pediatrics, we connected the two ideas –– pregnancy and oral health –– visually with one killer line that summed it all up: “Now you’re brushing for two.” This ad won a Silver.


AAP brushing for two prenatal ad
We also love to use humor. When the tone is right, it will make the audience more open to your message (but be careful the joke is not on them –– that does not work). It’s also a reminder to us and everyone at the award event that humor sets things apart. In this silver ADDY-winning mailer for an Oral Health America campaign, we had a bit of fun tweaking Congress for leaving the mouth out of Medicare coverage.
OHA Medicare Dental Coverage Mailer

Score one for awards. They push you to push yourself and avoid doing what you’ve always done before.

2. Award winners can inspire you.

While we’re on the subject of volunteer firefighters, here’s another piece we did for NVFC that won a Gold ADDY –– a bunch of animated beans acting like firefighters. We could describe it, but we couldn’t do it justice. Watching it is fun –– and (if you do this kind of stuff) inspiring. 


3. You see the importance of each step in the creative process.

There’s something special about ads that stand out. But what makes them different is not always the technical skill of those involved. The idea that sets an ad apart can come up in many points of the process.

For example: the set-up. In a TV spot for the Horizon Foundation’s Hoco Unsweetened campaign against sugary drinks, it was how we set it up that positioned it to win a Gold ADDY. We brought in dozens of kids and parents to a giant casting, put the ingredients to Gatorade in front of them, and then had them mix their own batch. Their real reactions are what made the spot work.


 The bottom line

So are awards a good North Star for the your creative team? Actually, no. Audience needs-states and behavioral determinants are still what matter most … to us at least. But awards can be instructive if you consider them for what they basically are — a beauty contest. Yes, our first job is to be strategic, to do what’s going to inspire behavior change (and that’s more than just ads). But strategic ads that stand out usually outperform strategic ads that don’t. So it was nice last weekend to see that so much of our stuff (more than just what we referenced above) stood out.


Learn more about how we design our campaigns with this quick introduction to behavior change marketing:

SM Little Book Behavior Change Marketing