Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pencil Pushing: A day at work as a D&AD judge

Morning walk to ExCel

The Morning Coffee: It’s always exciting on your first day at work. Especially if your work is to look at someone else’s work.

It also helps to see familiar Asian faces like Piyush Pandey, Akira Kagami, Jureeporn, Eugene Cheong and Tan Kien Eng – a telling sign of how D&AD has truly turned global.

Clocking in at 9.30 at the ExCel London Exhibition Centre, we were ushered into the main reception area where coffee was served by the gallons. We’d need that for the day ahead.

Reception area

The Boss (and his boss): Over coffee, John Jay, the foreman of the Integrated category, wanted our panel to think about what makes a great integrated idea, something that has eluded conventional categorisation and is still evolving at an exhilarating rate.

We were quickly whisked off to attend a judges’ briefing by this year’s president Tony Davidson.

So what is the judging criteria for the world’s toughest advertising and design competition?

- An original and inspiring idea
- Well executed
- Relevant to its context

It sounds so mind-boggling simple, I doubt D&AD would mind my revealing of this criteria, it’s not like I’m giving away model answers to the final exam papers.

Somewhere a junior copywriter just wondered aloud, “That’s IT??”

Indeed, that’s it. But there’s a difference between simple and easy. (And to ensure brutal judging standards, I noticed that several judges looked like they abstained from sex for a few months.)

Deadlines: We were tasked to cast silent votes on some 55 entries (typically 5-10 minute videos), and engage in full-on discussions and debate to finally decide in-book, nominations and yellow pencil winners. Tick tock tick tock.

Know your IT Manager: Voting was done via a handy Nintendo DS console. Despite the occasional hiccup and time spent on troubleshooting, it was a necessary tool to quickly and systematically tabulate results.

The Grind: Once the first video got rolling, there was no turning back. Thank goodness we were working with an already culled list of entries, having gone through an earlier round of online voting.

It was interesting to see how agencies present their integrated thinking on video. Long videos quickly became boring, underproduced videos did the ideas little justice and you won’t believe how many creatives think having a drums & bass/trance soundtrack is a great way to complement their video.

In the judging room

Friendly Co-workers: Guys like Matt Devine (Glue Society) and Paul Brazier (AMV) were very vocal and considered with their comments – which is great at creating a lively and respectful discussion atmosphere.

Meetings Meetings Meetings: After lunch we went into open discussion on the pending in-book entries.

This proved to be the most challenging part, with every judge pulling rejected entries back into consideration and taking out entries that weren’t quite great enough but somehow made the cut. It was an exhaustive and exacting process -- every detail scrutinised, every weakness prodded, every answer questioned.

A piece of work needs to be almost perfect to elicit the backing and belief of these select few.

It was a trademark application of the ‘simple’ judging criteria in full play.

Office Politics: Almost none. If the judges had any of their own work in the discussion, they were required to leave the room immediately.

Working Overtime: Deciding the nominations and yellow pencil winners took an extra two hours. Every judge had to be perfectly comfortable with the final selection because these few gems would help define and point the way forward for an exciting and evolving category.

Regardless of the outcome, my favourites remain Axe’s Gamekillers, a truly superb creative leap in terms of concept and craft, for a humdrum product like a deodorant, no less; and Zoo’s 10K Blowout, which had two marketing guys ‘waste’ the whole ad budget on true-blue laddie antics like bouncing around with topless models and flying a jet.

Noteworthy too was a campaign from Japan that had a plane powered by their brand of AA batteries. Serious.

Taking your work home: Having done a full day of judging, I went straight back to my room and crashed. Then I remembered that I’d been asked to blog this experience. So here it is, I hope it was good for you, it sure was good for me.

Victor Ng, deputy CD of Leo Burnett Singapore was judge for a day at D&AD, sitting on the judging panel for the integrated category. Marketing would like to thank Vic for kindly agreeing to be a guest blogger on Your Pitch.