Creative Porn

To the many gallons of ink that have been spilled over the years on the subject of advertising awards, I have just one word to add.

Pornography.

Don’t blush. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

Making ads is in many ways like making love: an intimate act between consenting adults, which frequently (but not always) results in the creation of a new life. And when practiced in the context of a committed client relationship, for the purpose of propagating healthy brands, it’s a beautiful thing.

At a certain point, however, we discover that for all its life-affirming virtue, this act has another, more elemental side: self-gratification.

This is where the trouble starts. Because given the prospect of awards, acclaim and adulation, the notion of making ads only for the good of the brand begins to feel quaint, puritanical and dull. An act that used to be about procreation now becomes a form of recreation.

Those ideas are not mutually exclusive. An ad that builds a brand, changes a mind, makes a sale is, by definition, a creative ad, and it may well win awards. But an award does not necessarily make an ad an effective communication—any more than, say, Carmen Elec tra’s great curves mean she’ll be a great mom. Which brings us back to pornography.

You’re blushing again. And no wonder. It’s all around your cube. On the shelf. On the desk. Under the desk. All those spine-cracked annuals, strewn around like discarded lingerie, thickened with Post-its, the pages discolored from the sweat of your palms. Spread after spread of impossibly beautiful ideas, unsullied by legible text or logo, gazing blankly back at you in their unattainable perfection.

Used responsibly, in the company of a supportive partner, these manuals can inspire new heights of creative passion. But ogled too long alone, they will distort your perceptions, foster unrealistic expectations and lead to shameful behavior that may impede your vision.

Lust for awards has had a corrupting effect on our industry, undermining the trust on which client relationships are based. Clients pay agencies for the promise of fertility—expecting them to deliver bouncing baby brands. Yet more and more frequently, agencies pay creatives based on their virility—the ability to satisfy the urges of awards-show judges.

What’s the solution? Recruit Rudy Giuliani to zone off the industry and drive the smut merchants back to Cannes? Reinstate medieval morality in creative departments, melt all the gold pencils down and recast them as padlocks for chastity belts?

Or do we simply try to restore a sense of perspective about what we do? Awards, after all, are a delightful byproduct of making good ads, and they should be enjoyed as such.

Maybe we just need to periodically remind ourselves how making ads is a lot like making love. If it isn’t fun for all involved, you’re probably not doing it right. If you’re doing it the right way and for the right reasons, it’s about as gratifying as life gets. But if you’re doing it irresponsibly, without regard for long-term consequences, sooner or later you’re the one who’ll end up getting screwed.