Everyone’s Complaint Department: Epiphany

The ‘Everyone’s Complaint Department’ series of comic strips began as random doodles and reflection pieces of Alvin Teoh, ECD of Naga DDB Tribal. These little stories featured in MARKETING magazine were originally posted on Facebook and are an ongoing tribute to life in Adland. The comic depicts Alvin’s early days in the advertising industry and words from the Executive Creative Director (ECD) himself.

There is a great debate about the value of creative awards the last 10 years and it revolves around the culture of scamming. I’ll try to get beneath it and see if I make sense. For me, it’s about validation. Many of us measure our self-worth through accolades and creative awards are still a big deal. It’s an official recognition of success and there is nothing wrong with that. A little bit of competition is good for everyone. But where it goes awry is in the manner of how we perceive what success is and what is it we’re really celebrating.

If success is measured by creativity alone, then a culture of ‘made-for-award’ work will dominate the award scene. John Hegarty, when asked to comment about this in an interview with AdAge replied that he ‘didn’t come here to look at somebody’s portfolio… when you pretend that this is a piece of advertising that had an impact on the marketplace, forget it.’


Somewhere in the pursuit of validation, we’ve forgotten that creativity does not serve itself. That’s fine art, not commercial art. Creativity exists to solve a problem and if done well, it’ll make some sort of an impact, become a part of culture and result in winning awards. That’s what success is. You create great work that win awards, not create great work to win awards.

Until we all realize this, the creative award show that was meant to celebrate creativity at its best will suffer some degree of scorn. And it is a great injustice to the many who slog it out in the trenches of adland. We all suffer when we pursue false gods. There is no glory in that.

Now let’s not leave this article hanging over the pit of depression, shall we? Thankfully, the old ways are dying off. Agencies that have invested too much time and effort to keep the culture of ‘made-for-awards’ going are collapsing.

It’s a necessary and painful lesson and in its place are a new breed of hybrids and dreamers, people who know how to navigate the ever changing marketing landscape while having their feet grounded in the human condition. These are the people who want to leave their mark through the brands they serve and the community in which they are a part of. Perhaps this is an epiphany and an awakening in adland? I believe so.

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