An award tells you more about the judges than the contestants

June 23 2011 - Mark Phillips

D&AD have just had their annual awards bash where they hand out their coveted yellow pencils in recognition of outstanding creative work.

It's not just the big agencies who get their chance to shine, students have their opportunity too. And this year, one of the categories included an open brief for Oxfam.

Teams were asked to "present an idea that engages support for Oxfam by triggering shared values and concerns in a wide range of people."

The winner was from the Miami Ad School (in Madrid) with their entry, It's a better life without Oxfam.

As you'll see, their approach was an online platform where users can find details of Oxfam staff and where they work.

Each staff member shares their dream of what they would like to do if they didn't work for Oxfam and…well, watch the video and you'll find out.

I don't want to criticise the students as they are probably a really nice bunch of people who know more about what is likely to win a yellow pencil than I do.

And that's my point.

As a charity concept it fails at pretty much every level. There is a sniff of an idea in there, but it is smothered by a complete disregard and rejection of why people actually choose to support good causes.

But it won the award.

And on that basis, the team behind it has been successful. They understood what their audience – D&AD judges – wanted and they delivered. Congratulations to them.

But it also explains something else. It shows us why ad agencies are so terrible at producing advertisements for charities. They simply don't get it.

Our story-telling techniques, the way we demonstrate need, the way we use music, endorsements and financial justifications seem to "bore the shit" out of them. So much so, that they reward an entry that directly criticises what we know actually works.

I can understand why. They must be very frustrated.

Agency after agency has tried to break the 'charity ad' mould only to see their ideas fail. All the while, low budget productions are continuing to attract new donors and actually raise the money that charities use to carry out their life-saving and life-changing work.

So, if you want to win an award, any of the agencies where the D&AD judges work might be a great place to start.

But if you were looking for a fresh face in advertising who might actually help you recruit and engage donors, can I suggest you go to the bottom of the D&AD list and take a look at what Amy Weston from Sheffield College has produced. She created a rather neat little idea called Give. Grow. Gain. that really does demonstrate an understanding of why people give.

If you read this Amy, get in touch and come and have a chat. You look like you know what you're doing.

Thanks to @skipinder and @pollysymondson for the heads up.

  • you are soooo right. Lovely for an award but who would want to give money because staff are complaining about working for Oxfam and want to have meaningless jobs instead.

    the brief was hopeless … it sent the poor kids in the wrong direction,

    as someone who loves and supports oxfam I was disappointed to see them dishing the ads that work and the people who have supported them previously.

    who needs a yellow pencil, I’d rather have a goat that gives economic empowerment and dignity to a family thanks.

  • Tara Lepp

    I love the Give. Grow. Gain. concept and what Amy Weston did with it. I also like the positive spin on it. I think that’s what is most unattractive and ineffective in the ‘award-winnng’ video – it is very negative.

    Thanks for the great examples of bad vs. good charity ads.

  • Laura

    I think it’s a real shame that the first couple of minutes are so negative – the concept of individual workers updating from their locations about the needs of the people they’re working with is essentially sound (though I’m not sure how many people would ‘like’ or ‘add’ them on Facebook – perhaps better as blog entries).

    It just felt bizarre to move on to positive ideas on engagement after a dialogue that seemed to completely undermine and mock the Oxfam’s values or the passion a lot of people have about the cause. Let’s just hope that this team don’t try to carve out a career in non-profits…

    Definitely agree that agencies can be terrible at producing non-profit ads/videos – I had a dreadful experience where our agency came up with the *worst* possible message we could use in video, backed up with a ‘quirky’ concept that would have alienated the majority of our potential donor base, despite comprehensive briefing. A frustrating experience to say the least!

  • chris

    Hello everybody,

    I happen to be one of the guys on the team who did this campaign and i would like to say something. This campaign is based on 2 facts:
    1- A lot of people don’t engage with NGOs because the idea of “ending poverty” seems too big for them and they basically don’t trust that the small help they might give to an NGO might actually make a difference.
    2- When poverty is over, Oxfam would not be needed anymore, and I’m sure (based on response from Oxfam workers about this campaign) that there is not ONE social worker in the world that doesn’t wish that his mission was over.

    The idea of the platform was based on the fact that everybody uses social media to connect with friends and family and get by-the-minute updates from them. So why not use that to give them information straight from oxfam worker who can give them a new perspective on thing, a perspective that is no distorted by the media?

    As for the PSA, you’re right. The format seems negative but the message behind it is based on a true insight. We didnt mock PSAs for the sake of sounding funny nor to win an award. We mocked it because it seemed like a nice way to deliver the real message: We want our work to be done. You want us to disappear. The only way to do so is by helping us. Basically: help us go away forever.

    And lastly, Ged Barker and Eddy Lambert who work at Oxfam and are in charge of all the communication they do were part of the jury of the award which kinda gives it a little bit more credibility i think.

    Thanks for the article, thanks for the comments and thanks for understanding that as students breaking into the creative industriy, we are asked to break the rules and think of new perspectives on things. They might not work in the real world, but we’ll have enough time to face the real world when we have to.