“Awards are important, but they are not the sole objective of advertising. Advertising should sell first, and then win awards.”
While nobody will refute this statement, it sounds a bit shocking, coming as it does from a man who has built his name in the industry, tracking awards. Donald Gunn is known in advertising circles globally as the man with the best job in the industry (because he judges the best commercials, instead of producing them; the latter was his vocation for almost 30 years before he retired from Leo Burnett in the late 1990s). He brings out an annual global report that lists the best ads, agencies and the countries that produce them. And this is done by tracking ads that win awards. The report has been the benchmark for the industry since 1999, when it was launched.
Gunn has also gone ahead and produced a research report, which shows that award-winning advertising helps companies increase their market share. Recently, he and his team analysed a sample of 400 most-awarded ads between 1992 and 1995, and found that 86.5% of these commercials had made positive contributions toward their respective companies’ success in the market.
So, will he please explain the contradiction between his statement and his work? “Agencies should only focus on creating the best advertising for their clients. That should be the first priority, winning an award is just an added bonus. But awards help agencies in establishing repute, attracting talent and bringing in new business,” he clarifies. “Award-winning commercials are two-and-a-half-times more likely to be successful in the market than average advertisements,” he adds.
Gunn, who has been responsible for creating several Burnett institutions, including the two that still set creative benchmarks for the agency globally—the Great Commercials Library and the Global Product Committee—was in India recently to address the Advertising Agencies of India’s annual conference at Goa. Does the Gunn Report consider the two rival Indian award formats—the Abby Awards and the Goafest? The man takes some time to answer this one. “One principle of the Gunn Report is that we never reveal the full list of the shows that are counted. And that’s because it might harm the business and the profile of the award shows that aren’t counted in the report,” he says, adding, “I run into a lot of trouble with those creative directors who can’t make it to this list because of the kind of money, time and effort that is spent in sending out entries and people to various award events.” But by way of giving some clue, Gunn says, “Maybe the fact that I’m here could throw a hint (on whether he considers Indian awards for his annual study and which one he does).”
Looking at global, regional and national shows in the most important markets is a serious business for Gunn and his men. He says he doesn’t want to miss out on any good ad. The man has a very keen eye when it comes to local cultures and their nuances. “The perspective of the judges (at international award shows), sometimes, is different. So, an idea that may be very clever culturally might get missed at an international show,” he says.
Meanwhile, there is some good news for Indian creative directors. Gunn is quite impressed with the work produced by Indian professionals. “The quality of advertising in India has always been good. But it has become very good in the last five years. What people like me and others love about Indian work, not only in Asian shows, but also Cannes Lions and Clios, is that people take a lot of joy in the local culture and interpreting local stories and finding ideas in things that are special,” he says.
His favourites: Fevicol and HappyDent; the latter won the Grand Prix at the Goafest. “Work like this could not have been done in markets such as the US or Germany. People here celebrate their Indianness and this is reflected very strongly in Indian advertising and this is what makes it so special,” Gunn says.