Scam Ads Are Nothing New. Perhaps The Old Ways Of Judging Aren’t Working.

Every advertising awards show season brings with it a crop of scam ads that get entered into shows and win. This year (and it’s still early in the year,) a campaign created by JWT India for Ford got nailed for being fake. The creatives supposedly responsible for the ads were terminated.


Ad Age has been on the story all week.

Not only has the Ford scandal been a ding to JWT India’s reputation, it’s also now leaving the agency without senior creative and account leadership, since these executives –and possibly others under the Blue Hive group at the shop that runs the carmaker’s business– must now be replaced.

Few issues raise the hackles of agency folks like awards shows. Invariably, the bigger (and more international) the show, the higher the stakes are. Because awards shows equal more money, power and stature in our business. It’s the primary metric by which creatives are judged, and unless that changes, scam ads will always exist.

Also, the circle of judges for big shows stays remarkably tight. They all know each other (or of each other) and protect their own. The panels skew overwhelmingly male, so ads that win disproportionately represent male “frat boy” humor. Perhaps it’s time to open up shows like The One Show so that all of its members (a few hundred) can vote on the awards. Or agencies who choose to enter a category can’t have one of its own people judge that category or show. How about a “People’s Choice” show where the public votes? I think creative people would be shocked and horrified to see what would win a show like that.

All of this reminded me that a few years ago, I judged an ADDY show in a small market. After the judging was finished, we got an email from the director of the show saying the Best Of Show we chose didn’t actually run. So we chose another spot, in time for the awards night. It’s quite possible that, for all the derision they get, local ADDYs have more integrity than the CLIOS or Cannes Lions.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for Dan published the best of his columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. Poseurs sit atop our industry. Talented poseurs, but poseurs all the same.

    The only judge of commercial communications is the customer. And they vote with money. That we would even think of another reward system hows how totally shallow and insecure we are.

  2. Chris Maley says:

    Cool article, Dan, I totally agree. What’s interesting is that I’ve worked with awards-obsessed CDs before who, if they didn’t identify a project as “award-winning opportunity”, actually had decent insight into my work. Their gut instincts were pretty okay. It’s just when they saw that shiny piece of glass or whatever, their comments on the work started to go to shit. But that’s because they switched focus off the marketing problem itself. David: thinking of memory lane?

    • Thanks Chris. I once worked with someone like that — who had never won big awards, but always asked, “What would One Show Judges think of this?” I call them “Award Losers.” And you’re right, they take their eye off the ball when they do that. But our system still rewards it.

  3. Dan, Other than the Effies, I agree most of these shows are entirely divorced from reality. But as far as that ADDY show you judged, did you ever find out why that fake ad was accepted as an entry in the first place? Close call.

    • Robert, I went back and checked the email. It said, “I just discovered that your Best of Show Broadcast choice of the [redacted] in the radio category was miscategorized. It never actually aired. It should have been in the “LA – Local Only – The One that Got Away” category.”

      And yes “The One that Got Away” was a category for ads that never got sold/ran. Sometimes smaller ad markets have categories like that. In Nashville they called it “Dropped Throws.”

      We never were told why/how it got miscategorized. But the organizers of the show caught it and fixed it. I’ll bet you the organizers of the One Show, Cannes, CLIOs, etc. have never caught that ahead of time. They do the shows, then the world finds out about the scam.