By Michael Willard

Winning a creative award in a variety of endeavors today is about as difficult as catching a fish in a barrel with a stick of dynamite. I exaggerate, but really, think about it.

Have you ever come across an author who wasn’t “award-winning”; or those who claim a juiced-up Amazon “Best Seller” designation by manipulating the algorithms for a few hours.

Having won awards in various categories — advertising, PR, and books — I would like to see a moratorium on most of these self-promoting contest. Many represent ego gratifying catnip for the would-be, want-a-be.

I’m not immune to this — just tired of it, and I am old enough and with sufficient battle scars such that creating for the mere sake of creating rings my bell and lights up my juke joint neon. I don’t need fake applause.

In some box somewhere three moves back, I have a collection of these trinkets. Some are glass, some bronze, some mostly wood. I suppose the sharper ones could be used for defense in a home invasion.

I was only 22 when I became — those words again — an “award-winning” reporter for the old Tampa Times. I won the Hillsborough County Mental Health Communicator Award before writing a line on the topic.

I don’t recall going to the ceremony where such awards were doled out. It wasn’t exactly a Pulitzer. I have thought about creating my own award contest. I’d call them the Willies. Now, that is where the money is.

However, when it comes to creativity, the problem goes much deeper, way beyond the sugar high of collecting a shiny tchotchke. The awards — many but certainly not all — represent industry debris.

Creativity today has been dumbed down such that it often pales in comparison to the 1950s televised black and white dancing rabbits in topcoats and canes who sang silly jingles about a headache remedy.

Forget the romanticized thought that creativity is mostly inspiration, a lightning bolt out of blue. In business what we do in advertising, public relations, and marketing represents a forced march.

The reason for this is obvious. We are paid to create on-demand. Clients expect us to meet deadlines, and to always have fuel-injected ideas that move their products or sell their services.

However, with both clients and in our industry, there is often a misconception about what is creativity. Often, the prevailing feeling is it boils down to that cute, kind of funny commercial or clever billboard.

If it amuses or entertains, some call this creative — even if the viewer never remembers whether the spot was about State Farm, Farmers or Progressive insurance and the key message was obscure.

I have different criteria for creativity. It is more prosaic but reality-based. It is offered with an eye toward the cash register and those graphs that show business is succeeding.

The creative equation goes like this: 1.) Does the concept deliver the right messages clearly and effectively; and, 2.) does the idea (copy, picture, video, etc.) move the audience to action.

Finally, does the copy or visual allow for a metaphoric handshake with the consumer, and not just a casual wave? If it graduates to a hug, it’s a definite winner.

I have often harkened back to the brilliance over the years of the Alka-Seltzer brand and the creative strategy behind it.

The upset stomach pain relief medicine made its debut more than 80 years ago, and in the early 1950s began using the iconic Speedy character and later the jingle “plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.”

Today, of course, this seems dated, and it is.

However, for its time, it delivered the right message of pain relief and it moved legions of hung-over, upset stomach partiers to reach for the Alka- Seltzer package.

Over the years, the brand never strayed from its basic message of speedy relief for upset stomach, but perhaps the most creative stroke was an ad firm’s discovery that two tablets were better than one.

This led to “plop, plop, fizz, fizz” and doubling product sales. Was this strategic idea called creativity? Of course, it was.

Today it often seems the quest for creativity stretches the limits. There is the attempt to be too funny, too shocking, or too cute in an effort to capture the audience’s attention. Entertainment overwhelms the message.

No, the Alka-Seltzer brand today wouldn’t win Best of Show in an advertising awards shootout, but you can’t deny a generation of success.

That’s what it’s all about.

Image for post
Image for post

Written by

I am a novelist, painter, songwriter and essayist but my day job is elevating the profile of authors, entertainers and business executives.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store