CANNES, France—Sir John Hegarty has seen pretty much everything during his four-plus decades in the ad industry. And every time awards season comes around, that includes lots of fake work.
“It’s relentless,” said the co-founder of BBH and TBWA at Adweek’s Creative 100 party. “It’s a bit like drugs in sport … as people find new ways of trying to hold it back, people will find other ways around it.”
While he didn’t name names, and though he is not a judge, he said a significant number of the ads he’s seen this year are “obviously, completely fake”: They were not part of a larger campaign and may never have run anywhere at all.
Of course, this topic is nothing new. Hegarty recalled judging an awards show in Asia approximately 15 years ago and encountering a very beautiful but obvious fake ad created by an agency whose executives were also on the show jury. “I haven’t flown 5,000 miles from London to judge people’s personal portfolios,” he recalled saying at the time.
He also said the “print area” is “where it usually happens” because the act of faking video or multimedia campaigns would be far more difficult. Judges also often end up relying on the word of agency leaders themselves when it comes to authenticity.
Scam ads became a hot topic again two years ago, when BBDO made headlines for withdrawing all its Brazilian Bayer work after one bronze Lion-winning print spot was called out for being both sexist and fake, meaning it was created only to win awards and may not have run in any legitimate publication. Grey’s refugee-locating app was also a point of contention, with the agency grudgingly returning its bronze Lion and writing, “The saying no good deed goes unpunished is apt in this case.”
This year, the practice has spread beyond agencies.
“One of the great tragedies is that clients are involved,” Hegarty said. “They are trying to get more fame within their own organization.”
He assigned some of the blame to industry bodies like The Gunn Report, which ranks agency networks by their creativity—or, more accurately, their ability to win awards. Another problem is creative directors who are “bonused on how many” they pick up.
Hegarty is hardly the only agency leader to call for a change. This year, Publicis CEO Arthur Sadoun told Business Insider that a total lack of scam ads was a positive side effect of the network’s decision to skip the Cannes Lions festival this year (or not).
“What a scam piece will never do is win the Grand Prix for Effectiveness,” Hegarty added. “The reason we have these awards is to show people how creativity and effectiveness can create great things. If the work never ran, then what’s the point?”