In a year when the whole industry’s staying away from the Croisette, TBWA\RAAD’s Chief Creative Officer Walid Kanaan conducts a debate on his shoulders over the value of advertising awards right now

Here comes my shoulder angel, making an appearance again.

He needs to make a point, trying to convince me that awards are not important during these times and that postponing award shows during a pandemic is the least they can do.

“After all, humanity is suffering, the mindset is not a celebratory one, and creativity can put its glorification aside for now,” he says.

My shoulder angel is caring and considerate. He continues with his monologue, wearing his glowing white cloak: “An agency in today’s world, suffering from loss of business, budget cuts, lay-offs, salary cuts, severe restructuring… should not even consider celebrating an award win. 

“How can one show-off a Grand Prix when the world is fighting an invisible enemy? How can an award show even manage a proper judging process while the online virtual jury is not even in a positive mindset? Would you trust someone who is ranking your work; someone sitting alone on their sofa at home, probably tired and lazy, unfocused and distracted?

“Nah, it’s not even worth it”, whispers my shoulder angel. “Just be proactively fast, good and affordable at the moment – in survival mode. You owe this to the collective, to your clients and their brands. Creativity can still be expressed, but should not be celebrated, even at zero cost. It’s inappropriate. And at the end of the day, does anyone really care anyway?”

My shoulder angel always makes valid points and uses strong arguments to set my conscience on the right path…

Until, that is, the reddish devil from the fiery abyss pops up on my other shoulder, with a different point of view and an equally strong argument: “No one cares? Seriously? Is the party really over? We cannot hug and shake hands anymore? Come on, it’s not the first pandemic and it won’t be the last! Humanity will prevail, as always. And meanwhile, there are certain things that we should not forget, such as celebrating amazing disruptive ideas. Self-pampering wouldn’t hurt, even during dramatic times. 

Because, at the end of the day, it’s not about being in denial or being disconnected from reality. It’s about perseverance and resilience. It’s about resisting the doom and gloom. Don’t you remember how you used to party underground while bombs were flying over your head during the war? That’s the spirit! Resist the negativity and keep celebrating art and creativity no matter what!”

“Award shows during dark times are not about the results, nor are they about who wins more. It’s a message from a community to the world. Besides, I know some people who really care about awards: Young Creatives. They are passionate, young and continuously want to prove themselves. And it is precisely those trophies that drive them forward. This is vital for agencies, for brands and for clients.”

“Careless and irresponsible!” shouts the shoulder angel, “Resilience and resistance!” replies the shoulder devil.

I look at both with a smile and dust them off my shoulders.

I’m genuinely supportive of some award shows who decided to reward creativity despite the global pandemic. They made a lot of agencies and creatives happy in tough times. However, it is important to note that the final online judging was a compromise, and it should not replace the heated, lengthy and focused live debates inside those dark judging rooms.

A big iconic festival like the Cannes Lions that relies on delegates, keynote speakers, live jury sessions, live debates and workshops… should be postponed. It was a good call, and an online jury would have been a major compromise for such a strategic show. It was a responsible move and definitely the right procedure to follow.

The entire industry celebrating creativity with hugs and cheers all across the Croisette beaches is every creative’s yearly unmissable pilgrimage. The Grand Audi can’t be replaced with a YouTube live session; jury rooms can’t be replaced with Zoom conference calls; workshops can’t be replaced with Google hangouts; red carpet award ceremonies can’t be replaced with email spam and the late night camaraderie at the 72 Croisette (Gutter Bar) can’t be compensated with a Team app happy hour.

Bottom line, a tap on the shoulder is way better than a vulgar emoji.

Let’s just hope that in 2021, we won’t be wearing masks on stage.