First, let’s define a ‘Scam’ ad.
A scam ad is the industry term for an ad made simply for the purpose of entering it into advertising award shows. It’s made for a client without the client’s consent, and sometimes, the agency or creatives don’t even have that client on their roster.
It may run once, paid for by the agency. Many times, it never runs at all.
For decades, these scam ads have been considered at the very least an annoyance and at most, a scourge of the award show scene. Creatives could launch their careers based on these ads, sometimes commanding top positions and salaries from their publicity, over those who work on real, revenue-generating brands. That’s encouraged many to take their chances on scam ads, knowing the penalties are usually light. Many award-winning print ads for years have been ‘scam’ - never having been funded or approved by the client whose logo appears on the ad. Still, the creatives got away with it and are now enjoying the fruits of their success.
Clients and brands have never seemed to take much notice of this peculiar inside-industry practice. But this recent example of an offensive ‘Silver Cannes Lions Winner’ from a Brazilian ad agency (presumably for Kia motorcars) is exactly why they should start to.
The ad may not have run in paid media, but digital changes the game. In a digitally-connected world, it was indeed ‘running’ online, paid for or not, spreading through social media and blogs:
I contacted Kia at the end of last week, thinking their PR department would quickly notice the offending ad and take measures to squash it. Today, I received the official response:
But the question is - just how much damage was already done by one agency’s desire to get famous on the back of a multinational brand that sells family sedans? And how much money will it cost that brand to repair it?
Brands should watch industry award shows closely - not only to see how creative work can effectively solve their briefs - but to protect their own brands from this happening to them as well.
As I pointed out in my previous article, clients (and our industry) need to be restructured to act faster and be more nimble. It’s the only way to ensure they can react to a world that’s already operating that way.
Otherwise, what are the consequences?