What did the D&AD Impact Awards do for NY Ad Week?
Gravity Road's founder on NY Ad Week, the inaugural Impact Awards & the importance of socially-empowering work.
Amid the buzz and chatter of New York Advertising Week, the launch of the new D&AD Impact Awards was surely the centre piece of this annual event and a welcome respite from this year’s dominating themes of adtech (you do know, every time you say the word “programmatic,” an ideas fairy dies?).
But, wait, another awards show you say? Wow, just what we need. But hear me out, this one felt different. Aside from the high production value of the show itself (not many trade awards finish off with a set from Sting - the tantric sex is obviously paying off, he doesn’t look 65), these felt welcome and timely. The introduction of the White Pencil to the original D&ADs has always felt like an adjunct without enough room to interrogate the topic fully. Now, finally here’s an opportunity to do this vein of creativity justice.
The Impact Awards aim to celebrate work that “harnesses the power of creativity as a force for good” and has demonstrated “a real and positive difference to the world.” This last point is crucial. The growth of social purpose as a creative trend is something that anyone who’s served on awards juries recently will have encountered - and endured - through countless case study films. At worst, the rise of social purpose has led to a deluge of sentimental, heavy-handed work with no respect for its audience. It leads to brands hanging their hats on creative initiatives that feel paper-thin and short-term. As Tim Lindsay, CEO of D&AD says, “We are in a post-CSR environment. Tokenistic projects no longer hold any value for customers.”
Too often in awards, nobody really believes winning work impacted anything other than hours spent in an edit suite, crafting the story for the entry film. Yes, I might sound like a cynical fucker - and yes, it’s unfair to brush aside genuine efforts in the industry to realise the positive societal role that brands can undertake. But equally, don’t underestimate the needs of the big holding groups to get their Gunn report stats up in any way they can: we could all point at countless awards entries where the social purpose feels like a superficial veneer... what I call ‘gilding for good’.
So the promising thing about the D&AD Impacts is that winning work must demonstrate real-world results beyond a case study film and the work recognised here felt authentic, possessing a sense of true intent. As it was the inaugural awards, the 2016 ceremony recognised work from the last couple of years, and whilst this meant many winners were already famous, it allowed D&AD to curate the creative northstars for years ahead. Couple this with a jury that drew from beyond the cliques of our industry (eg Jamie Oliver) and the result was a fresh new entrant to the global awards calendar.
And whilst there were some entries that erred on the mawkish, they were in the minority. What shone through was entertaining work like Proud Whopper (above) and Inglorious Fruit & Veg alongside more recent stuff like F$%k the Poor and Edible Six-Pack Rings (above). All of it enjoyable and energetic; work that played with the heart strings but didn’t feel the need to hang from them - a refreshing reminder that wit can be genuinely world-changing and playing it for smiles rather than tears often pays richer creative dividends.