A game plan for advertising awards for their 2021 return

Industry leaders indicate that industry award shows and events will have to adopt a fast-forward virtual approach and keep pushing the envelope for innovation

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: May 8, 2020 2:06 PM
virtual awards

To be sure, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has upended the events industry, forcing organisers to make tough choices. Owing to the impact of the pandemic on businesses and health, several advertising awards had to hold back the show for 2020. The biggest of these --The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity that is touted as the Oscars of the advertising industry -- was called off, weeks after it was postponed from June to October. The Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and The Advertising Club too announced that both Goafest and Abby Awards 2020 will be deferred for the year. 

On the top of an economic downturn, award shows are facing the prospect of prolonged lockdowns, travel bans and social distancing regulations. There also public unease of being in large groups even after the lockdown ends, compelling organisers to rethink the whole game.  

Disruption, turns out, is the watchword of our times, as almost every part of our world scrambles to adapt and adjust to the rapid, urgent changes in our lives brought about by the pandemic. On these lines, we asked ad-landers to share insights on how such award shows should change ahead of their return in 2021. 

The industry leaders exchange4media spoke to indicated that award shows and events will have to adopt a fast-forward virtual approach and keep pushing the envelope for innovation to ensure agencies participate despite the financial fallouts caused by the outbreak. 

The case for virtual

Will people be receptive to being in crowded groups so soon after months of social distancing? Even when social restrictions soften, industry leaders feel that a digital format may be the future of events, since uncertainty is likely to be up in the air for a long time to come. 

Anand Bhadkamkar, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network India feels that the physical jury meets and the evaluation processes need to be modified under the COVID-19 scenario.  “I think the core nature of awards recognising and felicitating talent and achievements need not to be changed. However, the jury process should now go virtual in the near term. And currently, several award shows have already embraced that,” he points out. Bhadkamkar opines that as we go forward, with the virtual process, it will also be imperative to demonstrate transparency and robustness in the judging process.

Garima Khandelwal, CCO, Mullen Lintas added that until the vaccine comes, even award shows, huge social gatherings, the judging, the hosting will have to go virtual. “Probably a WebEx platform to be hosted will be good to go,” she suggests. 

Several events this year were forced to go the virtual way owing to the pandemic. Adobe Summit, originally scheduled to take place in Las Vegas during the last week of March, decided to go digital. Google and Oracle too announced similar initiatives for Google Cloud Next ‘20 and Oracle Modern Business Experience.  

Deepak Singh, former CCO, The Social Street sees a lot of merit in the online approach. “When the things are online you get to call judges from different parts of the world, which makes the award function much more dynamic and allows for better judging. At the same time, I feel, the famous award functions like Cannes, Oneshow, D&AD etc. will still want to have their festivals happening live, which gives them much more PR value and obviously more money,” he notes. 

Tarun Rai, Chairman and Group CEO, Wunderman Thompson, South Asia believes that award shows like Cannes, Spikes etc. have three major aspects for the participants: of recognizing and celebrating creative excellence, learning from experts, and the opportunity to network. He believes that in a post-COVID 19 world, for the participants, while the first two are still possible to deliver virtually, the networking bit will be something that will be missed out. “It depends on how much weightage the networking aspect has. To my mind, it is not insignificant. I, therefore, feel that even if major events can do a good job of the first two aspects the participation would still be far from the regular number,” Rai opines. 

He adds that for the organisers, whether private or associations, another major aspect is the business aspect of making money, which he establishes is even trickier as the participation is likely to be much less and hence the sheer number of entries and paying participants would be significantly less.  

“The amount of money that is being charged for award entries and registration fees of participants will be much lower too. And finally, because the virtual world does not provide the branding opportunities that a live event does, sponsorship revenues will be reduced. Whenever a potential sponsor looks at spending money at an event like this they would look at the deliverables. And if one of the deliverables, the live event, is completely missing the awards show would be of much less value to the sponsor. Sure, the costs attached to hosting the live event are also not there but from my understanding, at these mega live events, there are significant margins to be made for the organisers,” Rai argues. 

Manika Juneja, VP - Operations, West & South, WATConsult weighs in on hosting awards in the “current dystopian moment: “Awards will be remodelled to virtual & remote judging. There will be a change in criteria for timeframe & success metrics for certain categories and amends in the categories at various festivals and overall participation. Most importantly, the mode of the platform will most likely be different.”

The healthcare conversation

Furthermore, the overall situation has opened people’s eyes to the importance of healthcare and wellness. With it becoming an imperative conversation, even non-healthcare brands are playing their part to tug right at the heartstrings of consumers. Experts contend that the post-pandemic world will entail brands to embrace the healthcare conversation in even bigger ways as concerns around safety and health become primary.

According to Rahul Mathew, NCD, DDB Mudra Group, one big shift would be that health will no longer be the business concern of a few brands.” Almost all brands have been playing a part (or wanting to play) in keeping people safe and healthy. So expect to see a lot of non-healthcare brands competing in the health categories and a lot of health-first ideas winning the big ones across categories,” he opines. 

Khandelwal echoes the sentiment: “Health will play a factor in brand communication, preventive and curative relation between the consumer and the brand will be imperative. Brand’s roles in social goodwill also get a new context.”  

The COVID-19 category

Singh indicates that keeping COVID-19 in mind, we can expect a lot of innovative and interesting campaign entries from across the globe in the digital space.

But should industry awards plow on and celebrate the noteworthy work done on lines of the pandemic once all the dust settles down? 

Khandelwal opines that immediate award shows and festivities should firstly factor in if even in India, whether ads made specifically for these times will even qualify. “COVID is not a cultural movement, but a humanitarian catastrophe, and many award shows abroad are talking about the probability of not factoring work created for these times as entries,” she asserts.

While Pratik Hatankar, Head - Innovations & New Initiatives, Tonic Worldwide too foresees a new category trend across all the award shows that would be focusing on COVID-19 ideas, Hatankar advises that the good work done around it can be celebrated without an intention of profiting from them. “Honestly speaking, all the major award show bodies should celebrate the great work executed during COVID but shouldn't profit from these entries. Also, since work for two years will be evaluated in one, work executed in different years 2019-20, 2020-21 should not be competing against each other,” he suggests.

Survival of the fittest 

Russell Barrett, CCO and Managing Partner, BBH India observes that the pandemic has forced us to ask a very important question: “Is that essential?” It’s a question that he feels shall be asked of awards as well. “Good advertising influences and is influenced by culture and mature award shows need to do the same if they hope to stay relevant. I believe only the essential award shows will survive. That would declutter things dramatically. So now that we’re talking about 4, maybe 5 award shows around the world (if you’re being generous),” he says. 

According to him, just like the agency business, smart/relevant award shows will need to innovate with their pricing. “The first question most businesses will ask, whether you're a startup or a part of a global network is; is this a smart use of that money? Can you justify spending this much money when your business has taken such a hit?” Barrett notes. 

Furthermore, he indicates that it should gravitate to celebrating work that actually makes a difference. “We know how the world of scam works and I think we should have a whole new category which is a lot more grown-up. Work that actually made a difference. This pandemic has, unlike anything in the past, given the entire world a shared experience. Smart brands, smart agencies and smart award shows will build from there,” Barrett opines.

Rai too feels that every awards show will have to address the business model differently to thrive and survive in the uncertain business landscape. “We have to keep in mind that air travel itself is not a given next year. Even if people do start flying it may not be as easy a decision as it was before the crisis,” he asserts. 

Moreover, he hints that awards shows can take a cue from a show like Filmfare Awards – something Rai is familiar with having produced for eight years. “The principle of that show was to have only very limited people at the live event and deliver huge amplification for the sponsors through Broadcast Television and Digital media. The other option is to break up an event like Cannes and have the event region-wise. It will help with air travel as also limiting the number of people at each event,” he notes.

“Every awards show will have to skin it differently. It can be done. But there needs to be some ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. Creativity is required to host these creative award shows in 2021,” Rai remarks.

Juneja sums it up: "Post COVID-19 era will change behaviour at large with sniper focus on what’s best & what matters in the list of priority and it could be different for different businesses in the industry. Everything depends on how soon the economies will recover and regain the focus & momentum towards the acknowledgement & appreciation for creativity worldwide."

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