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The Loeries: why SA’s top ad awards are still relevant in a digital world

As usual, around Loeries time, the assaults have begun in the media, social and otherwise. As a past subscriber to the criticisms leveled at South Africa’s pre-eminent advertising awards, and now a committee member of them, I feel that I need to break my silence and say a few things in their support.

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Take that as a disclosure if you must. I sit on the Loeries Committee, which is to say, I volunteer my time as a representative of the Digital Media and Marketing Association to assist in the formulation and execution of these annual awards. The Loeries themselves are a private company.

Among others, advertsing veteran Chris Moerdyk and industry blogger Herman Manson have been this years most vocal critics. Manson has charged that the Loeries have effectively (or even explicitly) banned him from the event. The claim, repeated by Moerdyk, is that this is due to the fact that he has been critical of the awards in the past and that Andrew Human — the CEO of the company — has therefore scratched him off his Christmas list.

As, so they would have us believe, he has done to anyone levelling criticism at the awards. Moerdyk calls us (I include myself since I am on the committee and therefore an “organiser” in his terms) an “arrogant bunch”.

Well now. That’s a broad brush stroke. And, like many of the points in Moerdyk’s piece, out of time. He quotes, at one point, Colin Adcock of Lindsay Smithers, an agency that vanished into the mists of FCB 15 years ago. There is such a thing as “age-old wisdom”, but not at the expense of contemporary relevance.

I am deliberately avoiding the issue around Manson other than to say that comparisons with more general threats to press freedom in South Africa are patently absurd. What connection exactly is being drawn between Andrew Human and the Loeries and the National Government and ANC? This is an example of sensationalism that would make most advertisers blush, nevermind journalists.

Still, anyone who believes that banning a journalist (if that is the case) from the country’s advertising awards is a harbinger of the collapse of human rights is free to believe that. Although I do enjoy the irony of, on the one hand, arguing that the Loeries are so irrelevant as to be safely ignored and, on the other, that being refused attendence will destroy freedom of speech.

Moerdyk’s article is an object lesson in logical fallacies that while fun to rebut would be to waste an opportunity to say something really important: the Loeries of today have, in fact, been re-invented already. As has the advertising industry. The attacks in these articles, and the comments submitted in response, are as tired as the cliches they contain.

Big news guys: advertising has changed fundamentally and inexorably over the past ten years. One of the commenters complained about the new Flora commercial on TV. That’s a comment as charmingly anachronistic as it is embarrassingly irrelevant.

If you hadn’t noticed, the world has moved on. We live in the digital age in which advertising and marketing has more to do with mobile, pay-per-click, content marketing and social media management than with flashy TVC’s.

The Loeries, in fact, under Human’s stewardship, has changed with it. From an orgnaisation on the brink of bankruptcy ten years ago the Loeries is now a thriving, multi-faceted and thoroughly modern awards show. More than that: it boasts a stunningly insightful seminar on the Friday before the awards that has drawn the participation of international luminaries; a student show on the Saturday to give youngsters a foothold in the industry; a glossy and acclaimed magazine showcasing creativity; and an annual that portrays a thriving industry at its best.

To partcipate in the Loeries judging is to rubbish Moerdyk’s claim that “Award-winning advertising is not chosen on the basis of efficiency or effectiveness but purely and simply on the gut-feel of peers”. That is so out of touch it doesn’t even earn the label “ignorant”.

The Loeries has a sophisticated, auditable judging process that painstakingly selects winners from amongst thousands of entries. Ask a judge (I have been one): this is a demanding exercise that lacks in frivolity in direct proportion to the number of glasses of scotch in every meeting. Mad Men is set in the 1960’s for a reason.

I could haul out statistics about how much revenue these awards bring to the City of Cape Town, where they’re hosted, or how many people the industry employes, or the latest international research linking creativity to business success. But those points have all been made elsewhere. Suffice to say: to argue that the advertising industry is either dying or ineffectual is all at once to misunderstand business, technology, society and culture.

Yes, of course, advertising is often lightweight nonsense as brands scramble for maximum attention in an economic climate that favours the thrifty. But the Loerie Awards, like all good awards shows, seeks to lift standards, recognise trailblazers and encourage greater successes. In this way it is completely aligned with the desires of society at large. They are as much at odds with the flagrantly cheesy, the spammers and those stuck in the 20th century as anyone else. Probably more so.

In the end the show will go on. Parties will be had. Drinks will be drunk. Drugs will be drugged. But when the participants arrive back at work on monday — at least the good ones — it will be to work longer hours than many to deliver tangible results to their clients. If their method is creativity, and a recognition of their success is a gold trophy of a bird, that’s not to diminish the mark they make on the business landscape, the cultural zetigeist and the betterment of our country in the process.

And to be clear: I like Herman Manson. I have written for him many times and I think he has done a lot for digital marketing. I’d love it if he were at the Loeries to share a drink and a line of coke.

(I’m kidding about the coke. That went out along with Lindsay Smithers.)

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