There is no shortage of awards competitions in the advertising industry but they generally fit one of two models—either creatives (and other industry insiders) judge the work of other creatives, as in Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, or they adopt a more forensic approach, such as the one deployed for the Effies, which judges campaigns on effectiveness data.
The annual Epica Awards is a global creative competition with a difference—it is judged by journalists working for marketing and communications magazines around the world.
This year, Epica is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its awards, which will be handed out in a ritzy ceremony in Amsterdam on November 17. Epica editorial director, Mark Tungate explains what makes these awards different from other creativity prizes. "The main difference is we are looking at it through the eyes of journalists as opposed to the eyes of people who work in advertising. We have a different perspective, we’re more objective, and we’re unbiased," he says.
That independence was reflected in a sharply witty ad campaign Epica ran earlier this year, which threw plenty of shade at the pressure creatives can put on their peers when it comes to judging each other’s work.
However, being objective does not mean the jury does not love creativity. Tungate says, "The judges are people who have been writing about advertising for years, so while they’re experts and to a certain extent they are geeks, they’re also members of the public, the people who are watching ads. But they’re members of the public with some expertise. They bring a different, slightly exterior perspective."
Does this different perspective mean Epica recognizes very different work to its counterparts? "Yes and no," says Tungate. "Often the work that wins at Epica will go on to win at Cannes and other awards competitions that follow us. One example is Shiseido’s "High School Girl?". We were the first to award that. We were first to award Volvo Trucks’ "Epic Split," likewise Always’s "Like a Girl," so quite often Epica is like a bellwether or trendsetter for awards that come later in the year or the following year," he says, adding, "On the other hand there are things that win at Cannes, which our jury doesn’t like at all. The Epica jury is very interested in context and depth and looks for slightly different things, they love a really good story, or good dialogue, something that has been well written."
Overall, Tungate says the jury is looking for not only the originality of the idea and the expertise of its execution, but also, whether it solves a genuine problem. "Does it meet a need for the client that there’s a real brief behind?" Tungate says, "The jury doesn't give awards just because something is lovely."
Epica is marking its 30th birthday in two ways, firstly Paul Weiland, director of the very first winner of its Film Grand Prix, "Points of View" for The Guardian newspaper, will be at the event to finally collect his award, 30 years late. And secondly, Epica has added a Design Grand Prix to its existing Grand Prix categories, film, press, outdoor, and digital. Tungate says this category was added to acknowledge the evolution of the creative industries. "Design agencies are not just design agencies any more, there is a blurring of the borders and they’re adopting some of the skills we’ve previously associated with advertising agencies," he says.
Over its 30-year history Epica has developed from a European competition to an extremely international one with about 60 jury members working at publications all round the world and entries from more than 70 countries. In time, Tungate would like to see the organization evolve into a brand in its own right. "I’d like it to be a year-round association of journalists who write about creativity and serve as a hub and interface between them and creatives," he says. "As the two worlds increasingly collide, we can learn from each other."