Steve Randazzo

Advertising and Marketing Awards Are Stupid Vanity Metrics

By: Steve Randazzo | April 19, 2016 | 

Why Advertising and Marketing Awards Are Stupid Vanity Metrics

By Steve Randazzo

I can still remember what it felt like to lose a sporting event as a kid.

I was green with envy as I watched the other team walk away with trophies when all my team got was a pat on the back, a “better luck next time,” and some orange slices.

But even as a seven-year-old, I understood I actually had to win in order to be rewarded.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore—especially in the marketing and advertising world.

Marketing Awards for Sale!

Today, agencies are swimming in plaques, trophies, honorable mentions, and nominations.

Everyone is competing for increasingly niche awards such as “Best PR Campaign That Use Social Media” and “Best Video Advertisement of a Dog Wearing a Hat.”

It seems like instead of rewarding outstanding strategic decision-making, we’re handing out ego boosts in exchange for loads of cash.

To win one of these marketing awards, brands must fork over a hefty submission fee and craft a case study that highlights the brilliance of their campaigns.

With some simple math, it’s easy to conclude why more and more awards organizations are popping up: It’s incredibly lucrative to have hundreds of agencies vying for hundreds of marketing awards, and as a bonus, the applicant-created case study makes it easy for the organizations to crown their victors.

These days, campaigns don’t win because they’ve achieved objective sales metrics; they’re judged on how fun, impressive, or edgy they are.

In other words, marketing awards are hardly representative of a successful campaign. They are merely a popularity contest in which the coolest brands with the biggest budgets win over the judges.

The Hard Reality of Moving Past Soft Objectives

Marketing awards are great for egos, but they don’t offer much for brands that are looking to stick around for the long haul.

My company has won its fair share of marketing awards, but we realize that great feedback from happy clients is much more valuable than hundreds of “best of” awards.

It’s time for more brands and agencies to double down on increasing sales and creating rock-solid foundations built by high-quality work.

If you’re over awards like I am, here are two mindset shifts you should make:

  • Drop the “coolness” obsession. If marketing is designed to generate sales, why are creatives primarily being rewarded for winning awards and not for driving purchase behavior? It’s easy to lean on marketing awards as validation, but smart agencies understand that sales are the true indicator of a good campaign. It can be tempting to point to shiny awards, but your brand deserves better. Demonstrate your outstanding creativity by letting the numbers do the bragging.
  • Institute practical creativity. Ultimately, brands and agencies should care less about showing off and more about selling units. There are some companies—Red Bull and GoPro, for example—that can successfully build their brands around a cool lifestyle. It works pretty well for them, but the majority of brands need to focus on practical creativity that showcases their products and drives purchases. It’s far more challenging to build campaigns that drive action through clever and insightful advertisements than it is to strictly entertain. Don’t sell yourself short; tackle the real work of gaining more customers or selling more to your current ones.

Don’t get me wrong—winning awards certainly isn’t a bad thing.

But it’s definitely not the most important goal to pursue.

Instead of collecting hunks of metal and Lucite that end up collecting dust on your desk, I challenge you to spend less time looking for a self-esteem boost and more time creating real value for your brand and customers.

image credit: shutterstock

About Steve Randazzo

Steve Randazzo is the founder and president of Pro Motion Inc., an experiential marketing agency located in Missouri. With more than 30 years of experience in the industry, Steve has longstanding relationships with big-name clients, including Dr Pepper Snapple Group, The Walt Disney Company, Hewlett-Packard, Duck Brand, Fiskars, Citgo, the NBA, and Tractor Supply Co.

  • But… but…. but….. Nah, I got nothin’. Kudos, Steve, bang on.

    • Gini Dietrich

      Right? When I read this last week, I wanted to kiss him.

      • Never stopped you before…. 🙂

      • Hey G – I just wrote a post supporting Steve’s essay. Can I get a kiss, too?

  • Like I said to Danny below (and I think I tweeted it, too), I wanted to kiss you after reading this. WHY doesn’t anyone talk about this? Sure, you can win all sorts of awards if you pay for them. I remember doing Silver Anvils (PRSA) and docking people for using media impressions and advertising equivalencies as “measurement” and I got scolded for it. Who ended up winning? Those who had super creative campaigns that got lots of media impressions.

    Makes me crazy.

    • Ok, so this is the first time I’ve written anything that got a comment about wanting to kiss me!! Should have written this one long a go – HA!

      Love reading your content too!!


  • Yes to all of this. All the trophies in the world are meaningless if your campaign doesn’t make your client happy and create value for them.

  • “Campaigns don’t win because they’ve achieved objective sales metrics; they’re judged on how fun, impressive, or edgy they are.”

    If sales metrics are the only KPIs that matter, then Batman v. Superman should win Best Picture this year.

    • Keith

      But a movie is meant to be a product in and of itself. A better analogy would be that Batman v. Superman’s advertising campaign should win an award. The movie? Not so much, as the Oscars are (ideally) awarded for artistic merit.

  • This. So much this. All of this. Two types of people: those who care about the work they put out into the world on behalf of their clients and their brand, are open about their mistakes and work hard to get better at what they do. Those who want to get famous, are in the lookout for the next shortcut and would never dare recognise they failed at delivering tangible, long-lasting results.

    • Gisele, so true!! Bravo!
      Our awards aren’t why we are in our 21st year doing experiential. It’s our work. Hard work pays off and as you know, client service knows no short cut.

      • I’ll be sharing this with everyone who wants to read it. Hopefully this ‘belle of the ball’ syndrome doesn’t have a knock off effect on newcomers, who are just starting their journey in the industry.

  • I don’t think anyone’s arguing that awards are “the most important goal to pursue.” But if you’re a small agency or brand, winning an award (which does happen, by the way) is a good way to qualify your brand to new potential customers.

    • Carlin, I appreciate both your comments and we are on the same page. Awards shouldn’t be the goal of the agency – moving the brand should be and we all work the hours we do to make sure our clients are the super heroes.

  • Great Post!

    We have this discussion all the time about buying trophies – which is what many of these awards essentially are.

    As the waters get more diluted with more awards and each of those awards with a million ultra-specific categories, and multiple winners per category it’s probably pretty hard NOT to win something.

    I always wonder if any client has ever been considering a vendor or agency and said, “oh wait they’ve on 3 Telly’s – let’s hire THEM!”

  • This article was written by an individual who A) has not created work worthy of a notable award himself, B) isn’t recognized as a leader in his industry or by his colleagues and C) has spent no time in the awards industry as to be able to speak with authority or provide any real insights. While his point about a growing number of award competitions is a reality, a savvy creative can quickly direct you to any number of very respected and established competitions.

    Awards, most certainly, ARE important. In particular, multiple awards, over time, represent a consistency of excellence. Creating a successful marketing or advertising campaign is a complex undertaking and this kind of complexity requires group success, not simply the good work of an individual. These are rare things that deserve recognition.

    And finally, an award is the completion of a journey. It demonstrates that the team not only conceived and executed on the idea for a client in a potent, effective way, but that they too, understand the process of culling the results and presenting them to their peers to have it judged and deemed exceptional. If your peers, who are your direct competition, deem it worthy of an award, what could be higher praise?

    • Chris, thanks for continuing the conversation. I knew when I wrote this article there would be a comment like yours, which is cool! I took the time to go to your web site to learn a little more about you and I noticed you promote two points of difference about your organization that aligns us, not divides us. First, your retention of clients and second, your ability to get referrals.

      My article, is all about how those two points are more important than any award. Over the past 21 years, we have won our share of awards and while they feel good emotionally, I am not aware of any client who has hired us because we won an award. Our clients hire us and continue to work with us because of the work we do and our level of customer service, and I’m sure your clients do too. In our culture, that is what’s most important.

      Thanks again for continuing the conversation.

  • Hi Steve, I definitely think your argument is valid and have contemplated the value of participating in award competitions. Alternatively, the feedback from judges is often the only structured feedback I receive. I set objectives/evaluate continuously, but few people I work with can offer constructive criticism on my PR, marketing work. Additionally, the process of compiling an entry is helpful and really forces me to think through what went well or what needs improvement. I’m not an agency trying to puff up my chest, I genuinely want to improve my work to help my organization and have found the award entry process to be helpful. All that being said…the feedback from judges often leaves more to be desired…

  • As a young professional, I’m glad I read posts like this. It keeps my head clear of all the false glamour that’s so easily pressed in our faces every day. Thanks for sharing it! 🙂

  • We design and build websites so that our clients can achieve their goals. If we win an award, great! But, it’s certainly not the motivation. Awarding a website based mainly on how it looks is really shortsighted, but it still seems to be the norm. Great post!

  • Yes, yes, yes. Could not agree more, Steve. Over my 30+ years in the industry (ack… did I really just type that??), I’ve watched with a mixture of fascination, skepticism and embarrassment as the number of PR and marketing awards have spread like a bad norovirus in day care. I was taught early on in my career (at a phenomenal firm called Epley Associates) that our job is to help build awareness and understanding for our clients, not ourselves. That perspective even extended to issuing releases about new clients – which we didn’t do unless expressly directed by the client. Why? Because, in the words of CEO Joe Epley, “if it’s news when your get a client, it’s news when you lose them, too.”

    Hard to argue with that.

    And that philosophy of focusing out rather than in helped build Epley Associates into one of the top regional public relations firms in the country. Joe served as chairman of the PRSA Counselors Academy and president of PRSA. And the firm was for many years the gold standard of public relations consulting in the Carolinas. And all of that was achieved without spending time, money and energy to win awards. Some clients wanted us to enter our work for them into the competitions because it helped them look good in front of their bosses. But we rarely did just for ourselves.

    I’ve carried that philosophy over to my firm, Forge Communications. Since we launched in 2009, we haven’t entered one awards contest, and I doubt we ever will. And we’re fortunate to get top-shelf work from top-shelf clients (which allows us to buy top-shelf liquor, but that’s another story).

    If you do good work, people will notice and keep giving you more work. And they’ll recommend you to their peers. I’ll gladly take that award over any useless piece of lucite any day.

    • Roger, thanks for the insight! The clients we all retain or don’t retain is the real feedback as to the quality work we are all doing.
      Another reason to not go for the Lucite…you have to dust them each week! 🙂

  • Our shoestring-budget Save Our Towns monthly web episodes aimed to “guide and inspire those working hard in Appalachia to build strong communities” just won three national awards. Yes, there was an entry fee, but I’m proud of the awards, especially in light of all the obstacles we faced launching and sustaining this vital work.