Such is the proliferation of awards that there’s rarely time to pause and reflect on the role advertising plays and the societal trends that shape its direction — which is why the D&AD’s annual insight report, collated from around 25 000 pieces of work, had the potential to be such an important reference for the industry.
For most in adland, the D&AD Awards, which took place last week, summons up three emotions: the euphoria of triumph, the despair of not being summoned to the stage, and, perhaps more poignantly, the envy the non-entrants feel towards their more-creative peers. Award events — and particularly creative ones — come and go in an endless cycle of champagne, tears and remorse. Once backs have been slapped, words of commiseration dolled out and bile swallowed, it’s time to pack away the Pencils and go bag a Lion.
But getting back to the D&AD Insight Report 2019, I’m not convinced it either hits the mark or provides many takeouts for South African creatives, as I’ll explain later.
Creative insights for 2019
Published in late April as a curtain raiser to this year’s awards, it used its analysis of 2018’s entrants to identify three trends which its authors feel should inform this year’s creative output.
The first trend encourages us to challenge what it means to be human. It then explores the impact of the fractured society in which we live before focusing on how we’re changing the way we assess and share information.
In short, purpose, time and technology.
Purpose has been spoken about extensively in recent months, with Gillette and Nike each offering us a slightly different view on how brands can use advertising to identify with audience groups. The D&D report implores brands to recognise humanity’s desire to ‘be the best version of ourselves’ and suggests that we identify creative executions that show our willingness to have honest conversations.
Humanity and Burger King’s Bullying Jr social experiment
It highlighted a Burger King campaign, in which a group of child actors taunted each other to see if any of the restaurant patrons would step in to stop the bullying. Amid the front-of-house commotion, one of its grillers punched and mangled burgers before serving them. While the camera showed consternation on the faces of those who witnessed the bullying, few intervened. This was contrasted by the long queue of irate customers complaining about the state of their Whoppers.
The social experiment, which proved that people were more likely to stand up for a sandwich than a child, went onto become part of classroom anti-bullying curricula worldwide and demonstrates how advertising can have meaningful reach and impact.
Its second insight focused on the fractured society we live in. While some consumers have become distrustful of messaging, social-media echo chambers have pushed others into closed-minded clans. If brands don’t have the credentials or confidence to effect change through purpose-driven campaigns like Nike’s or Burger King’s, they would do well, the authors suggest, to lighten our lives through humour.
The D&AD report highlights KFC’s mea culpa advert after crippling supply-chain issues saw hundreds of its UK restaurants run out of stock early in 2018. Instead of trotting out the standard corporate apology, it ran full-page ads rearranging its initials. The Brits love its satire and KFC’s use of humour turned a brand disaster into a PR triumph.
But you don’t always need to fail to succeed. The report also praised Diesel’s fake clothes store campaign and Coke’s double-ended togetherness bottle.
The report’s final topic took a look at the one thing that adland is terrified of right now: technology. Forget the doom and gloom about how programmatic is killing advertising and the restraints tech is increasingly imposing on creativity, D&AD said. Rather focus on how we can use it to get our message across.
It cited the London Times’ neat use of AI to compile the greatest speech JFK never gave (it used previous recordings to stitch together the talk he was due to give at the Dallas Trade Mart on the day of his assassination). It also showed how Ogilvy in Brazil created an AR app that helped distract children receiving vaccination jabs by having a superhero slap an invincibility shield on their arm at the exact time the needle pricked their skin.
The report highlights some key concerns and showcases some interesting executions, but it’s left me with a strong sense of déjà vu. Not one of these trends is new. Indeed, a fair number of the featured ads were aired in 2017, so it’s not even as though the creative’s current.
Perhaps D&AD would do better to produce its report a month or two after the awards and not base it on 12-month-old entries (although, in its defence, the global award cycle is endless, so it’s probably tough to find a gap amid the demands of champagne-swilling).
More to the point, I’m not convinced there are any actionable insights for our local creative industry (which, incidentally, did rather well at last week’s 2019 D&AD Awards). On purpose, the rainbow nation has been delivering brand advertising that has societal meaning for years. OMO’s efforts around education and maths literacy are, frankly, just as impressive as Burger King’s anti-bullying.
When it comes to humour, Nando’s trumps all.
And, as for the tech bit, I recall VML sweeping local and international awards years ago with its savvy campaign for PASSOP which replaced tweets containing ‘refugee’ with the words ‘human being’.
I feel that D&AD’s being self-aggrandising; had the report been called a “Creative Review”, I’d have been more accommodating — but put “insight” into the title and it smacks of an industry partial to a little too much of its own Kool-Aid.
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