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David Blacker’s Blog

Drop in the Price of Chillies in 2009

img00250I was hoping for a fairly uncontroversial ad awards this year, following on the heels of 2008’s scam issues; however that doesn’t look likely. Everything seemed very low key at first. There were no embarrassing judges telling us our work was shit in the forums. There weren’t any catfights between CEOs and C-oh-ohs over whose ads were scam. Everybody was ready to toe the line, divide up the Chillies, and go on home in the same sedate rowboat. Sound almost Slimmish, no?

And Slimmish it was. This year’s panel of local and international judges decided wholesale was the way to give out Chillies, doling out a record nine (count ’em, nine) Golds, a Grand Prix, and a Best of Show. That’s more Golds than has been awarded in all three previous years put together. And don’t even get me started on the dozens of Silvers, sackloads of Bronzes, and what looked like millions of those silly Finalists that were handed out. Couple this with a new scoring system that moved away from the so-called Olympic system to a point-based system, and you have a Chillies show that was fundamentally different from the previous years.

Now I have many questions for the Chillies organizers, but it all boils down to just one really: WTF?

Let me explain.

I’ll start with the two scoring systems that have been tried for the Chillies — Olympic, and point-based. With the Olympic system that was in place over the last three years, metal value won — a Gold beat a Silver beat a Bronze, etc. Pretty simple. A Grand Prix or Best of Show trumped everything and the agency that got that baby scored the night. Now, there was a bit of a fuckup last year. Leo Burnett won a bunch of silvers (relatively a lot by the Chillies standards of the time), and looked to be 2008’s most consistently creative agency. But not quite. You see, Triad (which had won next to nothing all night) suddenly pulled a Gold out of the hat and had the last laugh. So this time, the Chillies decided “that’s not fair” (and to be fair, it really wasn’t very fair), and decided to move the goal posts. Onto the cricket pitch. They also forgot to tell Triad, apparently (though more of that, later). This time there would be a point-based or tally system. It didn’t really matter whether you won one Gold or three Bronzes, because each award was apportioned a point value, and at the end of the night, you totted up the score, and the agency with the most points won. To make matters worse, a fourth place slot was created so that if your work was too crap to win a Bronze, you’d still get a point for it. Then, to add an element of farce to the night (and no, I don’t mean the drag show), the Chillies decided there would be a Grand Prix and a Best of Show! Now, ladies and gents of the Chillies, I hope you’ve noticed that Grand Prix means “great prize” in French — in other words, yup, the best of show. So while international ad shows have one or the other, we have both.

st-1Now I frankly think that in an agency-centric ad show like the Chillies where the agency is king rather than the ad itself, a point-based system is probably best. However, I really must wonder why those silly Finalists are in there. Are we fostering a setup that increases quantity over quality — five Finalists equal a Gold, for God’s sake? I know Stalin once said that quantity itself had a certain quality, but I think he was talking about slave labour. Now, given this system it would be logical for an agency to enter fifty pieces in 2010 in every category possible with the hope that each would win at least one Finalist point. Now if at least half of those manage to win more than one Finalist, and maybe even a Bronze or two, hey presto, an agency without a single Silver or Gold could realistically be up there in the top three. Who needs a Grand Prix or a Best of Show when mediocrity is worth points? The insidiousness of this mediocrity award was already visible this year. JWT, in third place with a Best of Show, five Golds, three Silvers, and four Bronzes, led McCann by only 19 points. Now if the latter had entered more, and had won 20 more Finalists (and given the generous outpouring of the judges this year, that was quite possible), they could have been in third place, ahead of a Best of Show winner, but without a single Gold, and just one Silver. JWT had no Finalists this year, but if I was them, I’d started beefing up the entries with some iffy work next year just to play it safe. I’m already hearing people saying “SLIM days are back, let’s pour it in, we’re bound to win something.” Now there has to be something wrong with that.

So all I can say to the people behind the Chillies is, if you do appreciate creativity as much as you say you do, please drop those silly Finalist awards. They don’t mean anything after the night, and just undermine the metal.

Let’s now move on to the sheer amount of metal awarded this year. But first let me say that this in no way attempts to take anything away from the creative people in the award-winning agencies. I’m just asking some questions. Nine Golds in a night can mean one of several things. Either creativity in Sri Lanka has jumped something like 800% in a year (and that’s not taking into account the Grand Prix and Best of Show which weren’t awarded last year), or the judges were a little overgenerous, or there’s been a slight readjustment of the judging criteria. Now I think we can safely leave out option one — I didn’t really see much improvement over last year’s entries.

So were the judges just kinder than in 2009 — or were they reigned in? Many people who attended this year’s judges’ forums noticed a marked contrast to last year. Gone was the straight talk, the full-frontal criticism, the pointing out of mistakes, replaced instead by a brand of fluff that often didn’t really tell us anything about what we were doing wrong. I know for a fact that several senior ad people were a bit miffed by the tone of last year’s international judges, who held no punches when it came to telling us why we were winning and — more importantly — losing. A few agency heads felt French was not a language for a Chillies’ forum, and my sources tell me that this year the judges were told to behave — especially the Scots. Now a lot of creative types pay good money for these forums, and we don’t do that to be just patted on the back told “run a bit faster”. Similarly, I’m told that the Chillies’ holy grail of absolute creativity was also compromised on, and standards “adjusted” in order to “encourage”. Now, in past years, the judging criteria for awarding a Gold was the certainty that the entry was good enough to win metal at an international show such as Adfest. If it couldn’t hit that mark, it didn’t get Gold. Full stop. I think it’s pretty clear that not all of those Golds are going to glitter beyond Sri Lanka, and it must have been clear to the judges too. So what happens to the legendary Chillies mission which seeks “to reward and honour advertising and marcom excellence; to be Sri Lanka’s premier awards festival; to salute the companies, people and their work for their excellence in creativity; to propel Sri Lanka’s advertising and marketing communication industry to world-class standards.” Did we do too much saluting this year and not enough propelling?

I find it hard to imagine that any of those nine Golds awarded this year could be comparable to the single Gold won last year, or the two in 2007. Not in quality of work, but in sheer fucking value. So again, I ask the Chillies reps, what’s it all mean? Has Gold gone down in value? Is last year’s Gold the equivalent of this time’s Grand Prix and/or Best of Show? Were this time’s Silvers just Bronzes? Guys, you can’t just move the goalposts and expect to muddle through. The Chillies need to have consistent standards, that will not waver with the whims of the industry — or should I say, its leadership. Most of the Bronzes and Finalists this year would not have won anything last year, and probably quite a few of the Silvers too. In comparison, many unawarded pieces from 2008 would easily have won this year. Has the long slide back to the SLIM Awards of old begun, with numbers counting for everything, and with individual creativity submerged in the mob of mediocrity?

This is not the way to make up the numbers, folks. The Chillies never were about numbers. You said the Chillies can’t be killed, but you’ve ably proven that it can be devalued.

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May 5, 2009 - Posted by | advertising | , , ,

41 Comments »

  1. Hey Davy, times are hard, so they must be forgiven.
    What’s really sad is that they don’t fool anyone but themselves. I saw the going to media collectively rule had changed also and some had got in before the others.
    It’s easy for me to say this from over here, but it is up to like-minded people as you to get together and actually prove that you ‘can’ by creating work that will sell and win beyond Sri Lanka’s border.
    Beyond raising the bar of creativity, the 4A’s must seriously look at raising the bar of professionalism.
    Lol
    dd
    x

    Comment by DD | May 5, 2009 | Reply

  2. I shan’t comment on the Chillies as I’m most definitely not knowledgable about these matters. But, more importantly DB that line

    “…decided to move the goalposts. Onto the cricket pitch”

    is sheer brilliance. And I’d like to ask your permission to use it sometime. I will, of course, claim all the credit for myself.

    Comment by RD | May 5, 2009 | Reply

  3. I hate it when they do this.
    I’ve seen it happen to so many events. What do they even get out of handing out pity prizes? Cuz that’s exactly what they are.

    Comment by Makuluwo | May 5, 2009 | Reply

  4. RD, consider it yours.

    Comment by David Blacker | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  5. David
    all good points mate! And i do agree with you on all.
    Finalists should be scrapped or at least they should not hold any “points”…
    And we too were wondering what’s the difference between a Grand Prix and a best of show…
    To be fair to organizers…true there have been inexcusable fuckups but i suppose it’s part of the learning curve…
    Some of our so called snr. ad people still have a helluva lot to learn…
    Sadly our people don’t know which forum to address industry issues also… Look at what has happened at the press conference… As an industry we’re not united to up our standards… It’s pathetic to say the least how triad didn’t know about the “points” system when Dilith is the vice president of 4A’s… Supposedly JWT too has an issue with this new scoring system 🙂
    I think we can all agree that this is the fairest system chillies have had so far, if you can take out the finalists issues it will the best we can have…
    And as far as too many awards given…agree with you on that too… We to did win a few awards we didn’t think would even be finalists…
    Handing out “cheap” awards aint doing our industry any good…

    Comment by Ranil | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  6. My experience tells me that it was nothing less than a farce. Going by the standards set last year, this year mediocrity ruled the roost. In a bid to save an otherwise dying festival (Read: The ‘You can’t kill it’ propaganda) metals were showered. I have serious doubts if the work that won here would win internationally. Some pieces have its worth but the rest of it was more of the ‘Here’s a trophy to encourage you’ bit. I think the Chillies committee should immediately get rid of their piousness (the unseen divide of whats legitimate and not). 50% of the work that was showcased was ‘SCAM’ well covered. Enough said. It was disappointing to say the least. Hope we get some more brains to the festival next year. And the old hags should call it quits.

    Comment by RR | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  7. I think the issue is larger than the chillies itself…i remember the first press con at Barefoot…where one of the criteria was that the entries will be judged on an international / regional points scheme…which seems to have been forgotten.
    apart from that one of the larger issues is that of consistency..which you’ve highlighted. the blueprint seems to change ever so often, the steering committee changes almost entirely, did the board of trustees also have a change? there needs to be a “fool”proof constitution or some blueprint which doesnt change just to help agencies become no.1 or win the most golds or whatever. let a fair grading scheme prevail with an even fairer judging panel be brought in to grade them! hehe…when will that ever happen!! The worst side effect in this whole thing is, what the clients think of us “agencies”..doesn’t that matter? oh well!!!!

    Comment by aneek | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  8. I wonder whatever happened to that O&M campaign ‘For a face with fewer lines’ it was for a wrinkle cream I think
    Does anyone know?

    Comment by Dilshara | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  9. I think it got nailed as scam.

    Comment by David Blacker | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  10. Just a little correction David…..no one ‘forgot to tell Triad’. They were invited to a blueprint meeting(at which the new tally table was presented) held on the 15th of Jan, confirmed their attendance and didn’t turn up. The entire blueprint was then mailed to them on the 2nd Feb…they did not read it.
    And 5 finalists do not make a gold. 7 do.

    Wonderful to read all these comments…what would be more wonderful is to see more volunteers to do all the hard work we do. I for one am totally ready to bugger off.

    Comment by laila | May 6, 2009 | Reply

    • Laila, I was being tongue-in-cheek about the Triad episode 🙂 Ok, sorry, seven Finalists, then.

      Comment by David Blacker | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  11. Hi David

    Just to let you know JWT’s official position on the out come of the Chillies

    JWT objected vehemently to the new points system but had to follow what the industry felt was best. We went in to the Chillies well aware of the point system that awaited us. We have no issue with the tally and have accepted the results as final. However we do have issues with the new point system and a lot of agencies are now awaking to the stark reality that the new system does not reward creative recognition. Its not wrong to assume that “SLIM style” recognition is slowly invading the Chillies.

    Comment by Irfan | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  12. And another way of looking at it.

    Comment by David Blacker | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  13. As everything in Colombo, this too will be swept under the carpet.
    Seriously folks, I really think that a third party hosting the ad awards worked much better. I would think about SLIM awards again. At least then so much of dirty clothes were not washed this openly.
    No one’s a fool, especially clients, if we want their respect we need to conduct ourselves professionally. Now we are airing our dirty laundry openly.
    Enter ad fest, spike, regional ad awards and international ad awards for creative recognition, allow the SLIM awards to act as the barometer to judge advertising that ran in SL for that year.
    It allowed us to judge the quality of our work between each other, showcase ourselves at the event to our industry and the clients, gave the junior people something to aspire to, everyone anyway bitched at the end of it and SLIM took the blame.
    Perfect!

    Comment by DD | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  14. Excuse my French, but doesn’t ‘Grand Prix’, if pronounced the way it was spelled, refer to a large gathering of Brand Managers and/or Agency heads? 😀

    Big up to David for saying it as it is.

    Most of the SALUTING is done cumulatively at an annual alcoholocaust. And the PROPELLING usually happens either 2 months before the alcoholocaust or the monday after. The rest of the time is used to promote ‘shape’ as a standard.

    Local awards ceremonies always had a tendency to turn into into nothing more than in-house orgies with a few foreign dudes watching. Right now, Sri Lankan advertising is still exactly like its porn; Cheap, tasteless, fat and ugly. Or ‘shapeke balanna puluwang!’

    Comment by Z | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  15. David, I was very upset to hear that a lot of O&M work got “nailed as scam.”
    How does it feel to be beaten with your own stick?

    Comment by Shehan | May 7, 2009 | Reply

    • Thanks, Shehan. I always suspected there was a sensitive guy hiding behind that beard 🙂 But we take it quite philosophically. Yeah we had one TV campaign nailed as scam, (the one mentioned above). Not sure I’d call that “a lot”. I think we had about 14 entries in about 7 campaigns. So overall, we’re pleased with our performance. We shortlisted brutally before entering, but if the system stays the same next time, I think we’ll jam in all those mediocre ads that might get a Finalist or Bronze and roll that way.

      Comment by David Blacker | May 7, 2009 | Reply

  16. DD, I don’t think we should throw the baby out just yet, however the bathwater’s looking a bit shitty. I think the Chillies just need to get that act together before they do kill it.

    Comment by David Blacker | May 7, 2009 | Reply

  17. hey David…

    Where do you find time to reply all of these comments???
    may be you should take some time off this blog and try and do some work for a change and may be next time you wont be so grumpy and might stand a chance to win some awards…..
    any ways all the best…
    better luck next time

    and for god sake stop bloody complaining all the time man…
    peace,

    Comment by Jc | May 7, 2009 | Reply

    • Ah yes 🙂 I was wondering when the comments were gonna get personal. Usually doesn’t take this long for the trolls to find the ‘enter’ button. But I’m curious, when you say “win some awards”, do you mean all those Bronzes and Finalists you guys picked up?

      Comment by David Blacker | May 7, 2009 | Reply

  18. Thanks David for the mail asking for a comment. A bit rushed now to pick up the thread, but will certainly do so when I free up.
    cheers,

    Comment by Russell | May 7, 2009 | Reply

  19. Aiyo aparade. I quite liked it. Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind.

    Comment by Dilshara | May 7, 2009 | Reply

  20. It’s sad to see sympathy awards. Though I’m not entirely shocked it came to this. You can never underestimate our industry’s ability to shoot itself in the foot.

    I’m glad we gave it a skip.

    Comment by Nils | May 7, 2009 | Reply

  21. It is possible that the judges genuinely felt that the winners met the specified standard. But due to the Chillies postponement, it’s probably too late to test the metal. Adfest is the most accessible international show for our cash-strapped industry, and that’s over now. Triad is sending their Sena Hasa work to Cannes, so let’s wait and see.

    Thanks DD for your alternative tally. One of the big stories this year – sadly obscured by all the machinations – is JWT’s pretty sensational comeback. As DD shows, they would have won by a country mile under the previous scoring system. And this is on top of their Young Lotus triumph at Adfest. Very impressive stuff.

    Comment by rajivmw | May 7, 2009 | Reply

  22. Well said David, agree whole-heartedly.

    Talking of awarding creativity – we don’t win golds because others aren’t as good as we are, we win golds because we are the greatest.

    Comment by Serendib_isle | May 8, 2009 | Reply

  23. this joke wont change or stop until a the new generation has taken over the industry. for that the old hats responsible for mess have to bugger off! and make room for the young and not so young (but havent been given any room) to take over these roles. and learn from these jokes!!! when the hell will that ever happen…i am sure we’d have 60, 70, 80 year old coots going around trying to be creative or trying to be strategic..which isnt possible! times are a changing and ESPECIALLY NOW! more accountability. more transparency, and even more delivery!! enough talk!!

    Comment by left the local industry for this very reason | May 9, 2009 | Reply

  24. On present scoring system to judge agency of the year…
    you guys think the older system of awarding to the highest amount of gold is fair?
    If that’s the case why not drop all the other awards since winning those doesn’t really showcase the creative power of an agency eh!

    Comment by Ranil | May 10, 2009 | Reply

    • Ranil, the problem with the scoring system, as I see it, is this. The Chillies is said to be based on international ad shows such as Cannes and Adfest, which use an olympic scoring system (but includes Finalists). Now that works OK, and the Chillies decided initially to apply the same scoring system — including Finalists, the first year. So what was the prob? Well, the thing is, the Chillies is an agency-centric show, whereas Cannes and Adfest are not agency-centric, or even country-centric — they are ad-centric. At the end of the night, the winner isn’t the agency or country with the most Golds, or the Grand Prix — it’s the ad. An ad or campaign that gets the most Golds wins. But the Chillies applied the olympic scoring system to an agency-centric show. So last year, when Triad won that one Gold, it seemed very unfair on Leo, which had a bunch of Silvers and Bronzes. But if we weren’t worried about which agency won — and focused on which piece won, then it’s very fair. The Walls ambient campaign won Gold. Well done. End of story.

      So we had a system that picked a winning ad applied to an ad show that was trying to pick a winning agency. Not gonna work, no?

      So Chillies changed the scoring system — to one aimed at picking an agency. So this time Leo won, even though the scond-place agency had a Grand Prix, and they both together had less Golds than the third-place agency — which also had a best of show!

      So what are we awarding here, creativity or agency money? Basically, the agency with a hundred mediocre pieces will beat the agency with that one creative ad. Creativity awards? Hmm, maybe this needs an all new post.

      Comment by David Blacker | May 10, 2009 | Reply

  25. I think this shouldn’t affect us creative people. We should try and be removed from the whole agency bitchfest. Look at what you as an individual, or team, won. Did YOUR ad win a Gold? If it did, great. If it only won Silver, OK, that’s how good it was. If it only won Bronze or a Finalist, well, there you go — try harder. Who cares what all those points added upto and which agency got the most points? Isn’t it more important to see what you got those points for? Maybe?

    Comment by David Blacker | May 10, 2009 | Reply

  26. Hi David
    Just to clear up why JWT was against the point system. Firstly, it doesn’t recognise excellence, secondly because the whole industry shouldn’t be manipulated on personal agendas, decisions must be industry-centric and thirdly small agencies/a few good entries won’t have a chance of a snowball in hell. To prove we were not giving in and play the numbers game with the new system, we entered only 23 entries.

    BTW, there are FOUR Grand Prix awards! One for each category – Print, TV, Radio and Non-Trad. Only the latter was given this year. Best of Show is the overall winner

    Comment by c | May 10, 2009 | Reply

  27. David
    agree with you mostly.
    the flaw i see with those who don’t like the points system is that “agency of the year” should be judged on their performance across many categories and media… If you only stick to the highest amount of gold that might not be an accurate representation of an agency’s creative prowess…
    say if an agency wins 5-6 silvers across the board and if another wins only one gold can you call that agency “agency of the year”?
    And in terms of the arguments directed and the “gold” system is more towards awarding creativity…what bollocks!!!
    creativity should span categories and winning a silver or a bronze is not a bad thing providing that the standards are kept high…

    Comment by Ranil | May 10, 2009 | Reply

  28. Thanks, C.

    Ranil, I think the question we need to ask ourselves is what are the Chillies about? Is it about picking the agency of the year, or awarding true creativity? Are the two compatible?

    Comment by David Blacker | May 10, 2009 | Reply

  29. ah. i’m always late. and right now i’d like to keep it that way. considering everything i just read. david, i buy your point. creatives shouldn’t fret. after reading all these comments, i loathe what i spent ten years doing. i should have lied, cheated, killed, robbed even perhaps died. if you cant criticize to the face, then how will you learn? AT NO POINT DID I HEAR ANYTHING ABOUT THE IDEA. all i saw was bickering. good good, as sri lankan formality please keep going. everyone who won big ELSEWHERE saw a smaller picture.
    perhaps… we might be that small eventually. but eventually is a long word.

    Comment by Ranoj | May 10, 2009 | Reply

  30. To focus this enthusiasm towards the actual work and for the benefit of those too hungover to take in the exhibition, could the good chillies people please post the work online so we can view/listen/watch/praise/bitch about this year’s winners?

    Comment by Shehan | May 11, 2009 | Reply

  31. David
    It should be about awarding creativity no arguments there… If “agency of the year” was to be chosen it’s my personal belief that it should be on some sort of a point system that respects awards like the silvers and bronze.

    compatible?
    How can awarding “agency of the year” go against “awarding creativity” ?
    folks will still get the joys of getting whatever metals they get…one agency winning AOY will not take the glitter off their metals now would they?

    but like most have said here already…judges have been to leniant and most of those metals will not got beyond chillies… The harry potter cup that got a silver at chillies got a silver at adfest last year… let’s wait and see if the big metals this time can go there…
    If not the judges have failed…chillies have failed!

    Comment by Ranil | May 11, 2009 | Reply

    • So why is it important to award an agency of the year? Who cares really? I’ll tell you who cares — CEOs and ECDs who need to prove that their outfits are better than the opposition. There was no agency of the year in the last three years of the Chillies. When that Triad wall thing won a Gold last year, Triad declared themselves agency of the year. The Chillies committee itself needs to make an independent media debrief of the event each year and avoid such farces as we saw last Monday.

      Oh, and what’ll happen if there’s no agency of the year — if instead we recognize good creative work instead? I’ll tell you what’ll happen — CEOs and ECDs will start worrying about how they’re gonna hang on to those high-scoring creative types who actually do the winning.

      Comment by David Blacker | May 11, 2009 | Reply

  32. It seems like JWT were able to demonstrate the best creative judgement, with their 23 entries, as well as winning the largest haul of precious metal.

    Doubly well done.

    David, it’s teamwork that wins awards. Are you forgetting all those quality briefs that inspire your work? Shame on you.

    Comment by Nils | May 11, 2009 | Reply

  33. Thanks, Nils. How could I ever forget those?

    Comment by David Blacker | May 11, 2009 | Reply

  34. hey -left the local industry for this very reason

    dude.. I do agree that the young ones need to get an opportunity, the old hags were young ones (they seem to forget this occasionally) nevertheless the fault doesn’t lie with the old ones!!

    How many young ones have put up their hands and actually taken up the challenge? How many have actually got down to doing the work as opposed to bitching about it afterwards.

    screw it isn’t good enough do it first

    Comment by Zeze | May 11, 2009 | Reply

  35. You’re retarded. No one cares about your little chillies pissing contest. HACK ME HACK ME. I AM NIBRAS BAWA! EVERYONE WHO HATES YOU IS NIBRAS BAWA!

    Comment by padashow | May 11, 2009 | Reply

  36. […] to the Chillies stated vision of raising the bar of Sri Lankan creativity. Another year, another controversy. Perhaps an attempt to unionize the industry and exclude those that didn’t toe the party […]

    Pingback by Court Orders Chillies to Lift Ban on Phoenix Ogilvy « the Blacklight Arrow | May 6, 2010 | Reply


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