ADCAN: The Awards Show with a Conscience

April 29, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The initiative that’s turning the ambitious advertising industry into an engine for good.

Brydon Gerus and Dan Heighes are optimists. Which is just as well, because they’ve undertaken something huge. The pair work at TBWA\Media Arts Lab by day and are Co-Founders of something new and rather bold - the ADCAN Awards

“Put simply, ADCAN is a creative platform for good,” explains Brydon. It’s a simple concept: a free-to-enter competition in which aspiring filmmakers enter 30-second ads they’ve created for one of the initiative’s selected charities, who have each set a brief. This year the charities are Open Cinema, Engineers Without Borders UK and Learning Through Landscapes.

The films will be judged by industry-leading production companies Nexus, Partizan and Rattling Stick and a winner for each brief will be announced at an award ceremony packed full of industry figures for the young directors to rub shoulders with.

Yes, there will be an award show, but winners and shortlisted filmmakers will get something more useful than a trophy to put on their shelf. They also get exclusive access to seminars, workshops and industry professionals to further sharpen their talents.

ADCAN is built on an ‘everyone’s a winner’ kind of framework, based on some problems Brydon and Dan noticed having worked in the ad industry. The first is that good causes and charities are always desperate for more exposure. With limited funds and lofty ambitions, communicating with the public effectively is vital to improving the world.

There are 180,000 charities registered in England and Wales alone, and how many of those have commercials or online videos that you actually see? While Oxfam, Greenpeace, Cancer Research UK and other heavy-hitters get onto our screens, there are a multitude of good causes out there that could never dream of being able to afford a film to help them raise awareness.

Secondly, there are hordes of young filmmakers out there franticly trying to break into creative careers in advertising. But Directors need to build a good reel before anyone will give them a chance. “Ours is an extraordinarily difficult industry to enter, and for upcoming filmmakers even more so,” says Brydon, who was lucky enough to win an award as an aspiring Director himself a couple of years ago. He hopes ADCAN will “provide upcoming creative talent a platform to break into the industry and be nurtured by top talent.”

The third part of the puzzle comes from the insatiable appetite the industry has for finding the best new talent. Production companies are constantly on the look out for new names to keep their rosters fresh, but where should they start in the vast sea of aspiring filmmakers? ADCAN helps them find Directors that have proven they can communicate a message in 30-seconds – a skill that many don’t get the chance to demonstrate.

Serving as the cure to these three ills, ADCAN hopes to encourage a seismic shift in charity advertising. But there’s an additional problem that they want to address. As members of the advertising industry, Brydon and Dan don’t like the image problem their business has earned as a callous, amoral engine of consumerism (i.e. Bill Hicks syndrome).

“Advertising doesn’t have the best reputation,” admits Dan, “yet it’s full of hugely talented and generous people. The two of us wanted to change this perception, whilst doing some good. ADCAN stands for ‘advertising can’ – it’s a platform for good.”

One source of conflict in ADCAN’s founders is that in trying to prove the advertising industry can be good, they have to host an award ceremony – not the most sympathetic kind of event, as they recognise. “The reality is that agencies and Creatives spend a disproportionate amount of time, resource and money entering and attending award shows,” admits Brydon, “where the brightest brains habitually gather to kill large portions of those brain cells in exchange for bookshelf hardware.”

So yes, there will be an award ceremony – it’s necessary to attract the right level of talent – but they stress that it must be about more than trophies and after parties. “We’re an initiative and a community beyond [the awards],” says Dan, “and that’s a key aspect that sets ADCAN apart.”

Changing perceptions for the better is a strand that runs through this whole project. One is the perception that charity ads are all miserable orgies of grief – images of poor African children with distended bellies and flies in their eyes begging us to reach for our wallets. As guilty as that makes us feel, it’s not always the best way to help raise funds for the good work the charities do.

ADCAN wants to fight this tired stereotype – one he doesn’t see as accurate. “The most exciting thing we can do as human beings is make a difference in our short time on earth,” says Brydon. “This is why some of the most interesting creative work has been done for good causes. However, the overall perception and majority of advertising is overwhelmingly depressing, sad and ineffective.”

There’s another misconception ADCAN wants to tear down too – that charity ads are for established Directors and Creatives who have the time to pour into them. Brydon and Dan want to see young people recognise the potential charities and good causes pose for young Directors wanting to build their reels. “Anyone can shoot an arty music video, a quirky spec spot for toothpaste and a short film that’s not that short,” says Brydon. “Creating a piece of communication for a real client that moves, touches and inspires people in 30 seconds is an insanely important skill to have.”

It may sound cynical, but ADCAN doesn’t rely on anyone donating their time on a purely volunteer basis. Everyone gets something from it. The charities get a free ad, the Directors get training, experience and exposure and the advertising industry gets access to exciting new talent.

In the past, people may have seen this sort of work as an altruistic duty, but Dan doesn’t think it has to be. “In the past people have seen charities as something they should do rather than an opportunity,” he says. “And we know there’s certainly a large number of people who want to direct, so by focusing the charities with a real brief and giving the Directors creative freedom they have a true opportunity to showcase themselves and create some exciting work, which will hopefully go a long way to changing people’s perceptions.”

If the talent is out there to make the most of that, ADCAN can provide a lot of support. As well as the aforementioned production companies, they’ve got post-production house The Mill on board, Work for editing support, Wave for help with sound design, Arri Media on cameras and creative firebrands Dave Trott, Mark Denton and Ben Kay helping out too, it’s an all-star programme. Brydon was surprised that, while it’s been a long process setting ADCAN up, he says getting those big names signed up “has been by far the easiest part of the entire process.” More proof that even the citizens of Adland have hearts.

The free-to-enter competition is now open and ADCAN will be accepting film submissions until 30 June 2014. Brydon and Dan have been amazed at the response it’s had so far, with interest from around the world. While entries are only open to UK residents this year, it proves there’s space for this thing to go global.

Brydon is encouraged it’s been so popular from the start. “I believe it’s because at the end of the day smart people simply want to create things,” he says, “and be part of genuine and honest systems that contribute toward pushing the human race forward, in whatever container that may be.”


Update: After much consideration ADCAN have decided to extend the entry deadline to midnight, Monday 14 July.

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