By Gena Tuffery,
Dr Martens made a public apology last week over ads depicting four dead rock icons wearing its boots in heaven, after one featuring Kurt Cobain somehow came into focus in his widow’s frequently befuddled vision.
When the campaign first appeared on the Internet many were surprised that the footwear giant would capitalise on the fame of dead legends, but it turns out Dr Martens was just as surprised as anybody. These were scam ads, a long-running awards ploy where ad creatives scramble to get an ad run once so as to enter it into D&AD or Young Guns. This practice is so widespread, that when the winners are announced there is often an outcry of ‘never seen it!’—not just from the public, but from other adpeople.
But this time the agency, Saatchis London, was caught. It was fired by the Doc and, in turn, dismissed the employee it found at fault. But I’ll bet my own ad awards this fall-guy wouldn’t have produced the offending ads all by himself.
How do I know? Because three of those awards, won in my previous life as a copywriter, were scammish in nature—and I sure as hell didn’t create, produce and establish a one-time-only showing all by myself. The ads had the additional imput of (of course) my art director, but also suits, media planners and yes, even the agency PR man himself, Mr Creative Director.
In fact, CDs are known to request scam ads from creatives when their pangs of award hunger are particularly strong.
So why should the creatives take the bullet (and not the Young Guns metal kind)? And perhaps more importantly, why should scam ads exist at all?
Because what’s an ‘ad’ to the public (aside from a pain-in-the-arse Grey’s Anatomy interruption) is not just a sales pitch to a top agency. It is an opportunity to show off, win awards and bump the losers out of your way on the way out of Sky City with your armloads of metal: “shorry itsh hard to carry all thesh”.
If companies like Dr Martens and Volkswagen (remember the VW suicide bomb ad that the carmarker knew nothing about?) want to protect their public image, they should implore awards committees to make entry criteria more stringent. For example: run more than once (preferably at least a respectable ten times) and on more mainstream media than Southland TV or the CD’s mate’s shed-run radio station.
Awards committees have to make the restrictions because as long as there’s an unhealthy does of ego out there in adland, agencies won’t. And I don’t forsee the day creatives come across as humble.
— Gena Tuffstuff