Tuesday, September 8, 2009

DDB's Offensive 9/11 Ad Ushers In Some Much Needed Award Show Rules

I was apparently living under a rock last Tuesday when AdFreak first broke the news about DDB Brasil's tasteless 9/11 ad (above) which has continued to blow up throughout the blogosphere and has DDB Brasil and the client, WWF, backpedaling like crazy to escape the international bad PR. You can check out the day-by-day updates on the original AdFreak post.

Essentially, the print ad shows hundreds of planes flying into lower Manhattan and the copy compares the death toll between 9/11 and the 2004 Tsunami. The copy reads, ‘The tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11. The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it.’


I get that our planet is powerful and can be very destructive, and I do believe we need to take some drastic action to curb climate change, but seriously? How do you possibly compare a natural disaster to a terrorist attack? The oddest thing is that this concept actually won a One Show Merit Award for public service work. Yeah. I would think the One Show would know better. It's not just that it's an offensive ad, but it's just a bad concept too.
As AdWeek's Barbara Lippert said, “Aside from being offensive and cringe-worthy, it's also just an ugly and dumb piece of creative, scoring high on the 'gratuitous use of tragedy to make a nonsensical argument' meter.”
It's shock value only, so how did it win a One Show Merit Award? Beats me.

That brings us to the next uproar. Aside from the fact that the One Show bestowed its honor on such a bad, tasteless ad, there is the question of whether the ad is even legit for entry. Once the corporate backpedaling started, WWF immediately claimed that they never approved such an ad to run. Sound familiar? Well, once the finger pointing began, it turns out that someone in the local Brazil WWF office actually did approve the ad and it ran at least once.

Well, okay, it ran once in a newspaper somewhere, but sometimes there's still the question of whether that really makes it award eligible. It's part of the larger issue of award chasing: Agencies like awards. They look pretty on display and they give that little ego boost and assurance to creatives that they actually are pretty good at what they do. But award chasing gets a little out of hand sometimes with people submitting fake ads, ads that were never approved, ads that never ran or sometimes ads that the agency footed the bill to run once, just so they'd be eligible for awards. Wow, that makes us ad industry folk sound like a bunch of cheats, doesn't it? The sad thing is this happens rather often on all levels of ad competitions from the local level to the international level.

In Barbara Lippert's AdWeek article on the recent DDB Brasil fiasco she quotes David Baldwin, former chairman of the One Club as saying that somehow the award shows always get blamed for giving awards to fake ads. True, I can't imagine the daunting task of trying to fact check every ad submission to some of these competitions, but at the same time, as far as I know, the award shows have never really penalized anyone for these fake entries. You might lose your award, but that's it. I remember once stumbling across a little note in Communication Arts retracting one of the campaigns I loved from their ad annual because it had never run, but it was a tiny little footnote that I just accidentally happened to see. There was also the Cannes Bronze Lion awarded to the agency that produced the fake J.C. Penney spot last year. I believe they lost their Lion, but that's about it. And did that really matter compared to the huge recognition they got for that fake ad?

The truth is, at the moment there's little to no incentive not to cheat in most of these shows. Sure, most ad agencies will figure out a way to make it technically legit (i.e., it ran once in this tiny little publication) but are those really any more legit than a totally fake ad?

In response to the uproar around DDB Brasil's controversial ad, the One Show has enacted new rules to deter fake entries. Basically, if you enter a fake ad and get found out, the agency and everyone credited is banned from entering the One Show for five years. If you enter an ad that 'ran once,' or the agency paid to run, etc., but isn't really legit, under The One Show's discretion the agency is banned for three years.

Personally, I applaud the One Show for finally taking some much needed steps to deter this ever-growing practice. I think the banning will help enormously, assuming it's enforced.

* On another note, check out the even worse TV spot from DDB Brasil that surfaced this past week. They apparently tried to enter it in the Cannes Film Festival, but thankfully, it didn't get shortlisted.

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