A Case Against Scam Ads

Sound off.

I'm quite shocked about this revelation. Here's a background. In less than 24 hours, some of the best creative minds in the advertising business will be in France for an 8-day international advertising awards - Cannes. As in most international creative awards, Sub-Saharan Africa rarely makes a good showing, except for industries like Music, Writings and whathaveyou. No advertising agency in Sub-Saharan Africa has bagged even a shortlist. So the expectation this year for Cannes Advertising Award has been high as Nigerian agencies make a record entry for the award: from 5 last year to 23 this year. And so the increase in entries this year raises a possibility of a shortlist, at least. For those who don't understand why a shortlist is important in advertising awards, you only need to know that some of the toughest juries are advertising juries, and add to the fact that in an award category of more than 2000 entries, the jury may just award only 150 works or less. Yes, it's that tough.

Even though some influencers in the industry are getting cynical and tired about awards, regions where it's still a rarity to win them still strive to win, at least to fuel regional pride and individual creative capacity.

So hopes are high this year... Is Nigeria going to break the jinx? Which agency waits to earn bragging right? Which creative team or Creative Directors will have their career changed for good? Is this the year to register our 3rd world advertising industry on the global map? Questions and hopes mix in high temperature.

I've seen most of the works and I must mention that it's very likely that this is the year. Perhaps, I'm wrong but my bet is high. But then, if it doesn't happen this year, we could just have a major intervention in our creative departments and start all over again, or keep praying to whatever gods we believe in. Some of the works are truly brilliant.

By some chance meeting, I had a chat with one of the creative directors whose agency entered works and to my surprise, he mentioned that another agency has been investigated to ascertain whether the works they entered for awards or for international publications are genuine. (For the non-advertising people, loosely defined, genuine works are those that are approved by clients and published in the media the same way as they were approved.) If the works weren't approved and they are exposed as such, the industry calls them Scam ads.

And o'boy, there are scam ads everywhere. The latest one that got international attention (and derision) was an ad by an Indian advertising agency for Ford Figo. The work, in my opinion aren't creatively bad although the technique isn't really new. But there were cries, even on Huffington Post, about the tastelessness of the idea. What made it all annoying was that the ads weren't approved by Ford but the agency published them as though they were. Wait for it... The creative team got fired! And that's because the industry needs to sanitise itself to avoid cases where unapproved works are entered as "approved."

In the case of awards, most advertising festivals state in their entry requirements that only genuinely-published and client-approved works must be entered. But there's been stories of agencies scuttling this for selfish reasons.

I understand. In a bid to validate themselves, creative people are prone to letting enthusiasm becloud their sense of reason(ing). Hence, they hope that the award organisers will remain ignorant of their shady move.

Back to the matter. I got curious when the creative director mentioned that another Nigerian agency has been investigated by an international publication. I strongly doubted it especially because I know the agency and respect their thinking, and also because it's rather expected that reporting them (whether or not they enter scam ads) is expected from "bad-belle people".

It's not important now to mention that I confirmed from those related to the agency if they've been investigated and they confirmed that some of the entered works are questionable in status.

But I really do wish that it isn't true because that portends a bad direction for the industry. If the works do win awards (or shortlist) and are followed by public relations efforts, should the rest of the industry join in celebrating the broken jinx at the expense of ethical practices?

If we do remarkable works and exhibit them appropriately, we will not only earn global recognition but we will help push the industry forward in ways that favour the clients, the creative people and the region.

So as team Nigeria takes the flight tonight, I wish them the best. But most importantly, I hope they see collective interest above individual selfish agendas. May the Force sorry... May the juju be with you :)

And may all and the best (scam) ads win.