The problem with innovation

One word has come to dominate the DMA Awards over the last few years – innovation. In addition to being the theme of last year’s awards, it’s earned its own category and now underpins the criteria of most others.

Although I understand why we need to use this word – as a judge I want to encourage entrants to always submit innovative work – I can’t help but cringe slightly every time I read it. Over the course of the last decade this word for fresh and original thinking has grown stale as brands around the world have plastered it across websites, billboards, emails and adverts in an attempt to differentiate their products. It’s gotten to the point where everything from trainers to Pop-Tarts are being described as innovations.

This overuse, not to mention misuse, has diluted the meaning of the word to the extent that few businessmen and women are able to agree on its definition. Even the mighty Oxford English Dictionary falls short in my view, describing it as ‘a new method, idea, product, etc.’ The problem with this definition is that ‘new’ is another word that’s difficult to define. If McDonald’s launches a new burger does it qualify as a true innovation? Not in my view.

Defining innovation within a certain industry or sector presents an even more complex challenge. In one-to-one marketing it’s often associated with technology but it can also describe a strategy or creative. The general vagueness around the word seemingly makes it difficult to identify; when we asked the judges at last year’s DMA Awards to identify the strongest element of the work they reviewed, only three per cent highlighted innovation. Interestingly, when asked in their own work is innovative, sixty per cent of respondents said it was. Perhaps innovation only exists in the eye of the beholder.

If this is the case, how can entrants to this year’s awards hope to impress three hundred judges each holding different opinions on innovation in one-to-one marketing? I can’t speak for all of them but as chairman of the awards committee and long-serving member of the judging panel I’m happy to share my definition of the word.

For me, innovation is less about new technologies and more about applying creativity to deliver something original that not only works but moves our industry forward.

That’s what I’m looking for in this year’s Grand Prix winner. If you think you’ve worked on a campaign that matches this definition you have until Friday 18th September to enter the awards. Visit the DMA Awards website for more details.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: