The problem with the awards culture in advertising.

Shinebox wins awards and – don’t get me wrong – we enjoy it! But I’m noticing a troubling trend. For too many agencies, winning awards appears to be more important than generating results. The trend becomes obvious when you take a closer look at recent award winners.

Award-winning campaigns are no longer driving brand growth.

Insights company Kantar illustrates this decline in campaign results in an eye-opening way ( It showed only a quarter of the Cannes Lions award-winning campaigns in 2019 provided short or long-term brand impact. More astonishing was that — for testing audiences — only about 25% of all award winners could be easily identified by brand. In comparison, award winners from five years earlier were shown to be 2X as effective at long-term brand building.


of Cannes Lions award-winning campaigns in 2019 did not provide short or the long-term brand impact.

What is happening? Introducing the “disposable” campaign.

The Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) published this report in 2019 titled “The Crisis in Creative Effectiveness” points to a dramatic change in campaign focus across our industry. Agencies are shifting from enduring, strategically grounded, long-term brand building to quick hits, attention grabbers and “short-term, activation-focused creativity.” These more ‘disposable’ campaigns show up in market for short periods of time, and are clearly designed to drive more immediate effects .In addition, we find many long-running campaigns also geared to short-term sales effects rather than long-term growth.

I can admire these campaigns as disruptive, but for all the wrong reasons. In short… these headline-grabbing, disruptive stunts and  repetitive punch-lines focus attention on the talents and skill of the creator, at the expense of the brand’s business objective. And to make matters worse, industry judges and organizations continue to bestow awards and recognition for the creators.

This approach has led to a cycle of “disposable” campaigns… make a big splash, impress your clients, win some awards, show them off, win more clients, make a big splash and so on.

“Creativity was once the single most important driver of effectiveness … However, creativity delivers very little of its full potential over short time frames…”

— Marc Scott, Executive Officer

The result? Agency recognition at the expense of the brand.

No doubt these disposable campaigns get a lot of attention, clicks and high engagement numbers. But do they build durable, exponential growth for the brand? Are they a worthy investment in a brand’s future. Unfortunately no. Most quickly fade away and are replaced with another quick-hit campaign. This perpetuates the disposable campaign cycle. More high-end creative work — designed for peer recognition at the expense genuine brand building.

More effective brand building.

Effectiveness — if you were to ask agencies — is too often measured by a client’s love of the work itself. I hear it a lot. This can come out as something like: “The client just loved the work and so did their boss.”

Effectiveness — if you were to ask our clients — is measured by growth for the brand or business.

These two things — a happy client, and brand growth — really have no connection to each other at all. In some ways, it is simply another form of recognition. We do want our client to be pleased with the work. But if we stop there, if we don’t demand more accountability for producing growth, brand equity and results for the business, then we do a disservice to clients who trust in our advice.

“Despite our warnings, the misuse of creativity has continued to grow and the effectiveness advantage has continued to decline.”

— Peter Field, IPA

Disruption and brand growth. The best of both worlds.

For Shinebox, effectiveness for a brand requires on two things: disruption PLUS insight. The result is what we call Disruption built on Shared Values. Without Shared Values, a campaign may be emotional, entertaining and even award winning. But NOT necessarily effective. Disposable campaigns focus only on being the most creative – disruption alone. We need to be giving our audiences something they actually care about, instead of cheap laughs, tears or just plain shock value.

It is not easy. It is very hard to combine insight AND disruption, then package it as a gift to an audience. Much harder still, to persistently craft messaging and creative that builds trust and woos audiences to fall in love with your brand over years. Brand growth requires disruption, but it also needs time, genuineness, persistence and an unyielding focus on the audience and their passions. Strong, enduring brands like Subaru, Coca-Cola, Nike and Apple know this.

Disruption is effective, but ONLY if your audience identifies with your content and then chooses to enter a relationship with your brand.

Our responsibility as an agency. A bigger opportunity for our clients.

If we are to be viewed as trusted partners for our clients, we need to be better focused on their success. We should be helping clients invest in strategies that promote brand endurance, along with the disruption typical of award-winning campaigns. We need to be partnering to find fresh insights, produce original content, deliver strong language, and demonstrate the dedication to evolve the work. Our clients should wake up one day to find they are leading the market, own natural brand awareness, have built brand legacy. They will see loyal audiences that have transformed from being consumers to being fans.

As an agency, we will continue to enter work in award shows, and try to make clients happy. But our first priority will be brand growth.