Why the Future of Risk-Taking, World-Changing Creativity Depends on Awards

That little trophy moves us forward

This is not another rant.

Every now and then, the debate about "awards for awards' sake" pops up in our industry, and I think that's good. I think that's healthy. No doubt the skeptics have a point when they point their fingers at ideas created purely for juries.

Per Pedersen Alex Fine

We've seen the trend of big winners being small ideas that wouldn't survive the brutal world of real brands. But we can't let a few dishonorable works make the real work any less honorable. The shows and wins and trophies and titles push our people, brands, agencies and our industry forward.

I openly and wholeheartedly believe in awards. This is not a love affair in disguise or an obsession in denial. I'll be the first to admit that winning is an exciting game, but no matter how well you play it, at the end of the day it takes an exceptional idea to win. An idea so smart that others hate it purely because they didn't do it. We celebrate these internally, the ideas we wish we had.

Naively, I hope that ideas like our Gun Shop experiment last year would exist without awards, just for the good of it, but I'm not so sure. We are an industry built on business, and there's no escaping that. Or if there is, come talk to me.

The trophies aren't a reason for being, but they are a factor, one that motivates everyone involved for all different reasons. Fourteen Lions not only gave recognition to the people who so brilliantly earned it, but it also brought more attention, press and fame to an idea that made Americans think twice before buying a gun. I wouldn't trade that.

These transformational creative ideas help to heal the world, but they also communicate differently. They change the rules, and that's always a risk—a risk for us and, even more so, our clients. If that risk-taking isn't rewarded or awarded, I fear these provocative ideas may become extinct.

And let's look down the line for a minute. Young talent emerges from all corners of the world, and they are the ones most keen to change conformity, as a whole and in our industry. We shouldn't fear them; they will make us better. But they need a stage on which to break through, a place where it's the idea and not the media spend that matters. A place where risk-taking is honored and not feared. It's what they love about our world, why they would choose it over any other industry. It's our swagger, our addiction to change, and our ability to applaud it.

The world needs award-worthy ideas now more than ever. But let's keep it real and have the shows push groundbreaking work to do just that—break through cultural barriers and into greatness. The success of any idea depends on it. I think awards can offer much more than a stage on the night of the gala; they can embrace the role of idea incubators and be a yearlong stage on which great ideas can stand proudly and become famous.

They are the beating pulse that gives advertising its much-needed edge. They serve as beacons for an industry that's constantly transitioning and for anyone who wants to challenge boundaries of creative thinking. We would lose a lot of our mojo without them. In fact, I think our industry would slowly die.

Award is a synonym for honor. We honor those who do it better than us. Where would other industries be without them? Cinema? Music? Literature? I truly respect and admire the winners, the people and the ideas. I see them as the pioneers of our industry, doing their part in steering it.

Competition is human nature, and simply put, winning doesn't make you a loser.

Per Pedersen (@perpedersenNY) is chairman of the Grey Global Creative Council and creative evangelist of the global network. He will serve on the 2016 Clio Direct & Engagement/Experiential jury.

This story first appeared in the April 18 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.