Last week I won an award at the Cannes Lions festival.
I’m remaining anonymous because I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the award. I am honored by it, but I’ve always felt a bit self-conscious about submitting the idea. The intent was to help people, not to exploit it for my own personal gain. Nonetheless, I took home some hardware that made me a member of certain club. At the same time, I can’t say that I’m too excited about it.
Compare this to survivor’s guilt if you will.
Many of my friends congratulated me, but I could also feel the disappointment they felt over the fact that their own ideas didn’t win. It made the whole process bittersweet because, in an ideal world, everyone would be rewarded in some form for their efforts. I mean imagine if we applied this model to the medical world: Is one heart transplant better than another?
Advertising is difficult. Projects take months to get off the ground, the process is frustrating, and there are so many ways your idea can die: Your boss can kill it. Your client can kill it. Some focus group can kill it. The talent can be shitty. The edit can be completely different from what you had in mind. Consumers can complain about it. The media support behind it can be pathetic.
Even if you get past all these hurdles, the likelihood that others in the industry will hate on your idea is quite high.
Despite all this, at least you made something. That’s no small feat, and if you’ve ever really worked on a campaign then you shouldn’t need some piece of fake gold to validate whatever pride you feel. This is even true of banner ads, so if you got just one shortlist mention at Cannes you should be happy that some of the biggest talents in the industry liked your idea.
Yes, it’s easy for me to say I’m over it, especially since I won. But that really doesn’t make my idea any more legitimate than the ones that lost or the ones that didn’t get nominated.
Awards shows are important in terms of gathering all of the past year’s best work, but they can do a good bit of damage as well by drawing an invisible line between some arbitrary definition of success and failure. This is bullshit because, as we learned yet again this year, some of the “losing” ideas are more real than the ones that won. We focus so much on these dumb statues that we’re willing to lie to ourselves about the legitimacy of our own projects just to get recognition. It’s kind of shameful, really.
If you’re a creative person, try to take some pleasure in the fact that you get to do it for a living. Don’t be too disappointed if you didn’t win anything. Remember that the Cannes organizers make a whole lot of money off our work and that the politics behind the event can be as gross as you would expect. There’s something to be said for simply having a project to submit.
As Ron Swanson once put it, “Don’t start chasing applause and acclaim. That way lies madness.”