Iain Tait Gives Us an Exclusive Look into ANDY’s Judging…in Hawaii

By Kiran Aditham 

Iain Tait, Wieden + Kennedy partner/global interactive ECD was gracious enough to provide us an exclusive sequel to Jeff Goodby’s tome from last year’s ANDY’s judging experience in the  British Virgin Islands. And now, for our 2012 ANDY’s Diary post, we give you a diary entry from Tait, who probably spent a hellacious week in Kauai, Hawaii. Take it away, sir.

As an advertising award, the ANDYs are pretty unique. It’s one set of judges that presides over work from the entire industry. Most other shows have separate juries for different disciplines. These different approaches lead to quite different experiences and results.

The ANDYs are different in another respect too: there’s a core of jury members who’ve been fairly consistent through a number of decades. Someone jokingly referred to it as Oceans 11 — a core of stalwarts with new folks imported to deliver special skills depending on the theft they’re about to perform. I don’t think that anyone was suggesting any kind of robbery, but I couldn’t say for sure.

This mixture of the Old Guard and Young Upstarts (please don’t take these terms too literally; some of the Young Upstarts are well into their sixties) leads to some interesting situations in the judging room and beyond. The ways that different people perceive the industry and the work we should be doing are fascinating. In fact it’s probably the best microcosm of the industry that I’ve witnessed. If you studied the ANDY’s judging room like a scientist would analyze a petri dish, I’m sure it’d lead to some interesting findings.

The most fundamental of all the conversations, slightly simplified to keep it brief, is around what constitutes an idea. It might surprise some people that something so core to an industry built around the value of creative ideas should be up for debate. But that’s how confused we are right now.

At one end of the spectrum you have traditional advertising where “the idea” is something that makes people think differently about something, that makes them feel differently and ultimately act differently. It typically uses some kind of storytelling that harnesses some combination of words, pictures and sound to move people. To make them laugh, cry, lust or wonder.

At the other end of the rainbow is a more tech-forward kind of creativity. Where “the idea” might be a new kind of service, functionality or experience. When these ideas work well they do exactly the same things as great advertising, making people think, feel and do new things. But this kind of work doesn’t always need the same kind of storytelling. The dirty secret is that sometimes storytelling can get in the way of a great experience. So if you’re trying to judge this kind of work using the same criteria that you use to judge ads, then great work can fall by the wayside. And I feel like I saw this happen on numerous occasions in the judging room.

Once it was discussed and explained, interactive work that had been previously overlooked was awarded and appreciated. However, I’m not totally sure that it was always fully understood.

This creates a challenging paradox for people entering interactive work into advertising award shows. Either you explain the nuts off your idea and risk making it sound complicated, uninspiring or at worst patronizing. Or you keep it brief and risk people not understanding what’s great about your project.

I could digress into a rant about case study videos, but I’ll spare you. We just need to realize that enough is enough. We don’t need to know that Creativity Online blogged about your thing. Evidence would show that they blog about everyone’s thing. And it’s 2012, so if something is good, people tweet about it. That’s just how the world works. It’s not like when you make a funny ad you feel it necessary to tell people “the audience laughed when they saw the ad.” Describe the idea and what you actually did. That’s enough.

I also have issues with the ad industry patting itself on the back for making digital products and services when we’re only comparing ourselves to a limited set of the work that’s out there. We need companies like IDEO, Frog and other design companies to see the value in these awards, or we’ll never be able to say that we’re really celebrating the best of the best. Maybe they never will. But as we start to compete for the same talent and client dollars, perhaps these silly bits of metal will start to carry some weight.

Within the set of work that we did see, much of it appeared confused. It can’t decide whether it’s supposed to be chicken or fish. The categories in the award shows don’t help. We’re stuck in a world of antiquated thinking. The notion of a web film feels remarkably quaint in 2012. If a piece of content is a film, you’d be stupid not to make it exist online. So everything is a web film. And if you’re creating a campaign, you’d have to work really hard to make it non-integrated.

In all this confusion some people see opportunity. Agencies who are desperate to prove their worth to clients carpet bomb awards, entering campaigns in as many categories as they possibly can. Hoping to sneak a “Best Use of Creative Cinematography in a Mobile Film in the Financial Services Category Under Seven Seconds” category. Show some restraint. It will serve you well.

When you see the work that’s triumphed this year I think you’ll see that it’s the bold, confident work that understands its role in the world that wins. There’s an interesting mixture of traditional storytelling craft, innovative tools and services, and provocative ideas. What we’re missing is the work that combines all three to devastating effect.

Game on.