The Five-Letter Word
Published in Mar-Apr 2021
For a while now, in Pakistan’s advertising, if you had to demean or shoot down a good campaign, you could use the go-to phrase “we don’t want to win awards with this.” Rejection of this sort automatically conjures up imagery of a creative department wearing French berets and cradling cats while creating ‘art’ and not business-minded individuals with the excitement of an Excel sheet trying to come up with something that would “sell products, dammit.”
If there is one major advancement in the industry recently due to a focus on award shows, it is that this behavioural mindset is now considered as ancient as asking your agency to use a tape cassette to record audio. It is now more or less accepted that an effective, creative campaign that brings real business results wins big awards: a campaign that wins an accolade wins confirmation from the industry that the agency and brand know how to build effective marketing. If you have an argument with that, bring it up with Nike.
The dirty five-letter word that used to strike fear in many a brand manager’s heart is no longer considered BP-raising. It is now actively a positive word, and is now pursued rather than avoided, mostly due to the understanding brought about by a couple of important factors in the last six years or so.
One of them is the recent abundance of never-won-before international awards obtained by Pakistan (mostly by BBDO) that has catapulted the country into global fame and has sent a clear message to those who thought it would never be possible: it is possible. The second very powerful influence has been the contribution of PAS in transforming the country’s mentality towards winning awards.
With the evolution of the previous PAS Awards to the highly effectiveness-focused and globally recognised Effie Awards, the Society, in one masterstroke, has pushed forth a new way to not only approach the idea of winning awards, but also the work itself.
Despite resistance in the beginning from conventional ad agencies, PAS bravely pressed forward to introduce a tougher standard through the Effies, with a much more elaborate entry procedure, one that over time all agencies have eventually adapted to and in fact, have learnt from. We now see a marked improvement in the way agencies craft their entry forms, giving the practice the due importance it requires. Case studies look composed now, designed for jury viewing. Entries to the award show have risen year-on-year steadily, despite an increase in fees, proving a growing trend of acceptance.
What is perhaps most refreshing to note is the breadth of brands and companies participating: this is by no means the realm of the mega-corporation and even smaller ‘Davids’ send in their creative best against the Goliaths in the industry – in fact, there is even a category specifically designed to cater to this particular micro-contest. Last year, a challenger brand such as Cheetay.pk managed to pick up a highly coveted Effie Gold. The message is getting through: if your work is good, it doesn’t matter how big or small you or your campaign are.
The introduction of foreign jury members to judge the work has also meant that a higher standard has been established. Industry professionals who have judged in global shows are more discerning, ensuring that the best work makes its way through. Initial protests resulting from fear that foreign jury members would not ‘understand’ Pakistani culture were ceremoniously brushed aside with the fact that a show like APAC Effies covers about a dozen different cultures, ranging from India to Japan to Australia and it works out just fine.
Award shows are not just to massage egos: their biggest purpose is to make an agency’s work better. The more an agency or brand competes against the best, the more they are likely to improve their work. This is perhaps the most misunderstood point about the value of award shows. For an agency, their only asset is the talent they employ, so why wouldn’t you want to make them better at what they do? For a brand, why wouldn’t you want your work to be determined as better than your competitor, or for your agency to make the best work possible? This is what an award show does: it makes these things better. And not by the agency’s own standards – by the standards of a group of industry professionals.
What the Effies have also brought about is a much more robust sense of measurement. How we define success and how well our campaigns have performed are now monitored even closer, and the mindset that your creative work has to perform allows a team from the onset to develop something that is designed to perform stronger. What the goals are, are now connected much more powerfully to what the objectives were, setting out.
As we all know in marketing, competition is healthy for any category. It is a tide that raises all boats. By introducing accolades such as Brand of the Year, the Effies have also pushed brands to make more effective work in order to win that accolade.
The fame for agencies and brands has been a business-generating device: brands want to work with agencies which create more effective work. Talent also wants to work with agencies that win, creating the kind of work that brings in more business. A fabulous win-win loop.
Much needed for our nation, purposeful work also gets a boost through award shows, urging brands to utilise their power in order to create work that strengthens the responsible link between purchase and purpose.
A few years ago, while at Cannes Lions, I received a call from Saqib Zia, who was heading PAS at the time, saying that Traci Alford, the newly appointed President and CEO of Effie Worldwide, wanted to meet and discuss why it would be a good idea for Effies to venture into Pakistan. Over tea, I pointed out to her that as it stood, the fragmented industry in Pakistan needed help to bring it together in a unified desire to create stronger, more effective work that wins awards and an international brand like Effie just might be able to do it.
In just a few years’ time, Qamar Abbas and his team at PAS have done just that; in the process making Pakistan Effies one of the most successful programmes in the Effie Worldwide roster, even earning a seat on the Global Effie Council (of the 57 programmes worldwide, there are only 12 seat invites and Pakistan is now one of them). What a proud moment for the country.
Perhaps PAS’ greatest legacy of introducing the Effies to Pakistan will be that a most important question was finally answered: yes, there is tremendous business value in entering and winning award shows. If you’re entering award shows, guess what, you are working for awards. Which now, finally and thankfully, is deemed a good thing. Look at the entry list and you will see that most agencies and brands in the country are now craving for their work to be the kind that wins another kind of Five Letter Word.
Ali Rez is Regional ECD, Middle East and Pakistan, BBDO Worldwide. He is an 11-time Cannes Lions winner and has won the Effie Grand Prix twice in two years. firstname.lastname@example.org
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