Spooner on…Xmas, DMA Awards and bah humbug

spooner-new1Merry Xmas to all my readers…Those of you who have had the social misfortune to have worked with me during my thousands of years in the JUNK MINES will know just how much I love this festive time of year, with its amateur drinkers, false sentiment, cack-handed, bumbling expressions of ‘goodwill’, amateur drinkers, clandestine bigotry and misogyny (those twin jokers!), part-time, opportunistic, hand-wringing christian apologists, capitalist triumphalism and amateur drinkers.
But now is as good a time as any to look back over the corpse-strewn battlefield and smoking ruins of 2016 and jingle a few cracked, celebratory bells.
After all, this was the year when ‘the people spoke’. And now that the opinions of the ignorant and small-minded are triumphant and little bands of overweight, greasy angels are waving the banners of St George & the Confederacy over the remains of our ‘civilisation’ – a small voice piping in the tumult is likely to remain unnoticed even within the august, informative, sleek, modern, twenty-first century ‘digital’ pages of Decision Marketing. (The UK’s premier source of news, views, FACTS and gossip for the through-the-line illuminati.)
Oh and I must remember my editor’s patrician request to “write something about the DMA Awards Spooner, and get on with it, everyone will have forgotten about them by the time you get around to it, you work-shy fop”. So the DMA awards then, go and have a look for yourself here and good luck navigating your way around one of the least user-friendly websites in the digital era.
I have been a judge at the DMA awards since Rory Sutherland was in short, tweed trousers and Steve Aldridge’s hair barely touched his collar and I applaud the enterprise, skill and judgment of this year’s winners as I do each year.
One of the most heart-wrenchingly depressing and yet somehow touching – in a pity-provoking kinda way – aspects of judging each year is to look at the way in which the entries are written, not for the obvious winners but the obvious failures. Each of these will inevitably contain something about “engagement”, “customer insight”, “digital salience” etc etc etc and a film that buffers endlessly. Even when the work is good, the entry itself renders it un-award-able.
As I’ve mentioned before in this publication, the humming, well-oiled (in both senses) machinery of the Engines, Lidas, O&Ms, Havases etc etc etc of this world ensure that their entries are models of glossy professionalism – to the extent that the consumers of these messages, (though judges we are consumers still) are dazzled and edified, swept up in a swirl of meta-language and unctuous believability until our minds say ‘GOLD’.
So the contest is as much about professionalism in the entry process as it is about the work itself. Both MRM Meteorite and Karmarama must have dedicated huge amounts of time, effort and cross-departmental energy to the production of their entries – a crucial aspect of their deserved dominance this year.
I have lost count of the number of times when viewing a doomed entry that I have cried out to my fellow judges “Why the hell didn’t they get a copywriter to look at this?!?”
What’s more, I can always measure my own declining status in these matters by the category I am assigned to judge. When I was at what is now Rapp it was Copywriting or Art Direction – now that I am at an undeservedly less (less!) glamorous agency I am asked if I would mind, “to fit in with some administrative challenges we are facing” judging Mobile or Experiential – “we’ll let you know when you get here”.
Little did the DMA know that there were two fabulous campaigns in the experiential category.
The deserved gold winner was Atomic London for CRUK – with their virtual reality garden at the Hampton Court Flower Show. 
And silver went to MRM Meteorite for their fabulous, vaguely torture-porny poster site for the new Microsoft X-box Tomb Raider game. 
There was a real debate between the judges about these two (the Xbox thing I know from my dapper friend Adrian Simons, their CMO, has won innumerable awards) and between celebrating the legacy of those who are leaving money to support an admirable cause and those who took pleasure in making geeks suffer – I think the right campaign won.
But (and here I refer you to my opening paragraph) with my Xmas hat at a jaunty angle what do I actually think about this? On the one hand an organisation that exists because the only shining, political and humanitarian triumph of British twentieth century history – the NHS – has failed – on the other a game that perpetuates monstrous clichés of privilege, aristocracy, and dubious sexuality in the context of the loss and destruction of our cultural history – Tomb Raider – invites you to quite sadistically and directly freeze, soak and burn contestants in a sub-Hunger Games misery-off where the winner gets to visit the locations used in the game.
Groovy!
I am delighted that Karmarama and MRM Meteorite have given the ‘old guard’ a surprise this year, I think that is very good for the business as a whole. Do I think that the DMA Award scheme with its massive proliferation of categories and a process that favours the bigger agencies and the biggest media budgets is the best we could do?
No.
But like this Xmas it’s probably the best that we deserve.

Jonathan Spooner is a consulting creative director

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