When an awards competition isn’t a competition and doesn’t give out awards

17 Jun 2009

The Webbys used to be cool. The Webbys used to be hip. The Webbys used to matter. But no one in the industry really cares about them anymore. Which means it’s about time that the web-browsing public and main-stream media started paying attention to them. In just a few short years the Webby Awards went from a prestigious industry badge of honor to a complete joke, on par with the MTV Movie Awards. On their website the Webby Awards boast:

The success of the Webby parallels the rise of the Internet. From humble beginnings, the Webby Awards has evolved in to the undisputed premier honor for websites.

But they left off the part about where the Internet became an absolute wasteland, a haven for spam, worthless content, thoughtless banter idiocracy. To their credit, the Webby Awards did continue to parallel the Internet on that path as well. Don’t get me wrong, the Internet is also home to some of the most thoughtful and amazing content as well as applications and tools that have changed how we live and interact with each other. But the Webbys no longer represent that.

I believe the Webbys started with honest enough intentions. Probably to bring attention to and recognize some of the great artists that were flocking to the web at the time. But since then the greed that typically takes over for award shows has lead them to engage in the all-too-common tactics that make award competitions (and I use that term loosely) more money.

  1. Higher Fees – More money per entry equals more money for the awards show.
  2. More Awards – Why hand out an award to the winner of the Education category when you could hand out Gold, Silver, Bronze and a couple of Honorable Mention awards for the Education category? Entrants that win are more likely to enter again next year.
  3. More Categories – The more categories you have the more opportunities entrants have to win. Again, entrants that win are more likely to enter again next year.
  4. Additional Services – Once you’ve seemingly captivated an entire segment of the working population, why not branch out to other avenues of sucking their wallets dry. A conference summit is usually a good place to start. Then there’s the obvious charges for tickets to the awards banquet and extra fees for actual trophies and certificates.

I suppose higher fees is a natural progression. We do have to deal with inflation and all that jazz. So I’ll give them a pass on that.

Handing out numerous awards in every category is just another attempt to bring in more revenue. It’s no surprise that people that win awards are more likely to enter again next year.

The increase in categories is really the mind-blowing part of this whole equation. Would you believe that the Webby Awards started with a meager 15 categories in 1997 and has since ballooned to 129 categories in 2009? That’s an 860% increase. The category count as increase 330% in just the past five years, coinciding with the addition of the Mobile, Advertising, and Film award types. Think about it like this. Say you owned 10 shares of the 1,000 shares outstanding for a new company, or 1% of the company. And then say the company increase the amount of shares outstanding by 860%, just like the Webbys increase their amount of categories. The company would then have 8,600 shares outstanding, and your 10 shares would then only account for 0.116% of the company. Your value has just plummeted. That’s pretty much what happened to the prestige of the Webby Awards. When anyone can pay $275 and get an award, they stop meaning very much. They’re no longer awards. They’re just certificates of participation. Basically just receipts for paying your entry fee.

As I mentioned, this isn’t exclusive to the Webby Awards. The MerComm awards are another great example of this. They actually took the advice that some individuals have given the Webbys and split up their entry groupings into different award categories. They have the iNOVA Awards for Websites, the ASTRID Awards for Design, the GALAXY Awards for Marketing, the ARC Awards for Annual Reports and the MERCURY Awards for Public Relations. But keep in mind that an Annual Report could be entered in the ASTRID Awards, GALAXY Awards, ARC Awards and the MERCURY Awards. And a website could be entered into the iNOVA Awards, ASTRID Awards and the GALAXY Awards. Just like the list of entrants, the list of award winners is too numerous to count. I’ve been a judge, entrant and winner of various ARC awards. And I’ve actually even won an award for one category when we entered our work under an entirely different category. We could only assume that they had too many entries into the original category so they moved us to a less competitive one to make sure that everyone got an award, encouraging them to enter again next year.

This leads me to my last issue. In addition to not being very exclusive, these award competitions aren’t actually very competitive. When you’re only competing against the other people that paid the entry fee, you’re not really competing against the full field of your competitors. I realize that it would be tough to gather a list of work to consider for recognition without having people submit their own work. But wouldn’t it at least be a more legitimate competition if perhaps people were encouraged to nominate other peoples work? Their competition isn’t perfect, but the Weblog Awards do just that, solicit nominations for each category. Sure there will be some people that nominate themselves, and there will be a ton more entrants, but at least then you’ll have a better representation of the quality work that’s out there.

Lastly, the Webby’s have made themselves irrelevant by failing to recognize why the web is so great in the first place. They’ve gone so mainstream and corporate by recognizing sites and groups like NY Times, Guardian, NBC and CNN that it’s clear they’re completely out of touch with what’s happening on the web.

Here’s a hint, if your awards competition is being plugged on CNN and being compared to other irrelevant awards competitions like the Oscars, then you too are completely irrelevant.