I started my career in agencies like Contract and Ogilvy, Delhi. During that time, there were only two kinds of creative people—those who had won awards and those who hadn’t. The ‘award-winners’ were the real creative guys, a superior breed who walked with a swagger and had the license to literally shred a bad creative brief and if need be, even physically assault the servicing people who had written it. The aura around a creative person was directly proportional to the disdain with which he treated the servicing people. And of course, the number of awards he had won. The coolest Creative Director in Delhi was someone who had won four CAG awards and had apparently flushed the brief for a print ad down a commode just because the brief didn’t mention whether the ad should be in black/white or colour.
Naturally, we started out hero-worshipping the award winners. In this environment, I too developed a hunger for awards. In my second year in advertising, I won a CAG award for a press campaign for Shell. A bronze. My first award ever, art directed by Prasad Raghavan who is a now a renowned painter. If getting through the IIT JEE was the happiest day of the decade till then, this was the second happiest day. Even the receptionist and security guards of Contract’s Delhi office started treating me with a newfound respect. It was like what Shraddha Kapoor must have felt after Aashiqui 2. Even the system acknowledged an award-winning creative person. I got promoted and even got a raise. I started getting job offers from other agencies.
In my next stint, at Ogilvy, we created a campaign for Satyam Cineplex that won 22 awards in one year. Including four Abbies in an era when agencies had not yet started boycotting awards. Not to mention, Cannes and One Show finalists. Owing to this, we got a chance to work in Ogilvy, Kuala Lumpur and more promotions.
Ironically, after five years, in which we won close to 100 national and international awards, I started deeply thinking about the eco-system of awards. Blame it on my engineer training or whatever, the propensity to go beneath the surface and question everything regardless of popular opinion, was what really led me to this. Some of the questions that occurred to me included:
1) If rewarding creative excellence is the real agenda of the award show organizers, why does a single Cannes Lion entry cost 23 grand?
2) Does a client look at me more respectfully if I have won an award?
3) Does winning an award for the 200th time make me as happy as winning it for the first time?
4) Do I derive happiness winning an award from a jury containing people whose work or creative judgement I don’t admire or don’t even know?
All these are my personal thought processes. There is no doubt in the initial phases, when there weren’t as many opportunities within the agency and also no Facebook (where a creative person can achieve relative fame just by the periodic posting of selfies, images from that trip to Cappadocia and other equally evocative ones like him buying groceries!), awards were the only way to get noticed and create ripples in the industry.
At the same time, it was an illusory glory. When I turned entrepreneur, I had to shift my focus from illusion to cold reality. When I went scouting for new business without the backing of a big agency label behind me, the past campaigns that really helped land our first set of business wins were KILB (for Aegon Religare), Vaseline (Aam Chori Chappa Chori), Asian Paints ‘Budget Shaadi’ and Nerolac Shalini Chopra. Real campaigns that had garnered real market share. Not the award-winning but less visible campaigns for book shops and barbers. Even today, Scarecrow has won lots of business, organic and inorganic, based on successful market place campaigns for Quikr, Fiama Di Wills, Poshan Wala Lotion and ZKK ‘Kal Kya Banaoon’ to name a few.
To reiterate, these are just personal observations. Despite all this, the fact remains that for most creative people, awards matter. The way I see it, it’s a personal choice how much you want to chase it. And for how long. Ultimately, it all depends on what you seek from advertising.