Drop in the Price of Chillies in 2009
I 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.
Now 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.