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Are Scam ads like concept cars at auto shows?

Cannes Hasbro Y&R 2007

Scam ads have been popping up everywhere like mushrooms lately, the award shows One Show and the D&AD have laid down new playing rules and then, Niel French is defending them at the Spikes Asia Festival, of course he does. He is the king of controversy after all, and some say the King of Scam ads (please know that the Dark Beer campaign is not a scam campaign).

He also defended scam ads ("I don't mind kids trying hard and cheating and lying to get to the top") and lamented that the quality of ad creative this year leaves much to be desired. "It's gone down everywhere, not just here," Mr. French said, a sentiment echoed by many delegates, including John Merrifield, TBWA's Singapore-based creative at large.

You can say a lot about French, but you can't say that he wavers, he had these very same opinions eight years ago when he spoke to HK magazine. *

Mr French upped the ante when he said “Who cares if a few scam ads win awards? It’s not the Olympics. It’s just a game a side-show”

See, for Niel, scam ads are like concept cars at an auto show. It's what you aspire to do. For most other people competing in the show, scam ads are the steroid abusing cheater who run past you to the finish line. To be fair, international shows have a whole host of unequal footing issues, like pharma ads from countries with vastly different regulations competing against each other. A Viagra ad with a ten second disclaimer from the US will never beat a Viagra ad that is only ten seconds long from Canada. Then there are the culture and language traps, one cultures funny ha-ha joke is another cultures politically incorrect.

Scam ads have always been a hot potato. Starry eyed fresh adgrunts show off their concept filled portfolios only to be beaten to the job punch by someone who has a book full of concepts that won awards, but are just as much fiction as the first. There are rumors that will never stop dogging certain agencies that they have entire floors of chain smoking imported creatives that do nothing but come up with one-off award winning stuff which was only executed once. No brand building long running concepts or attention to minute details working on the odd space ads for pre-bought idiotic media for them. One agency I worked at was taken over by a CD that insisted on one-off award winners for every client on the list, regardless of what their current strategy or need was. Soon the real creatives and the good clients left the building - because advertising isn't about one-off cool ideas. That's the bigger danger in scam ads, they sully the brands we are all collectively building. The big problem for that CD was that he was only following orders from the higher ups. Awards mean more clients. More clients mean more money. More shareholders are happy when there's more money. What was once the dance between a client and an agency building the life of a brand, is now puppet-controlled by masters at the top of the ladder on both ends who bend over to shareholders that only ever care about the bottom line. It is not a coincidence that one of the most creative agencies in this world, has grown large together with their first client while that client took over the sneaker world.

The LIAA added a "Scam Ad" category way back in 2002 but the amount of scam ads entering awards seems to have not slowed down one bit, in fact the opposite seems true. Open requests to stop scam has shown a growing annoyance from fair playing creatives for quite some time, but the scams keep getting (and are later stripped) of awards.

There is only one award a scam ad should get. A Play-Doh Lion. And perhaps it should get you a job if the idea is good, a job where you create real ads for real clients. These days when non approved ads fly across the web for all to see (including non ad folk who don't know a fake ad from a Worth1000 photoshop competition) a scam ad setting the web on fire can damage brands. The exact same thing can be said about your spec portfolio on the web though.

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