Donal has spent much of his career at D&AD to become Awards Director of D&AD’s Global awards programme and heading up the relaunch of the D&AD Festival in-person for the first time since 2019. He has overseen many developments in the expansion of the Awards programme as creativity evolved and found new ways of expression. These have included the additions of gaming and virtual worlds in 2021, public relations and media awards in 2017 and the the D&AD Impact Awards that launched in 2011. At ADFEST, he leads the discussion, “What Creativity is Made of”, exploring the themes and commonalities that allow us to group very different campaigns to find insights into what’s going on behind the creative process. Here he also talks about the return to live judging, the value in advertising festivals and how to submit winning entry. 

What do you think are the greatest barriers to excellence in creativity right now?

I think what the last few years have shown us is that creativity is thriving. The emergence from the pandemic released a massive output of excellent ideas, rebrands, and beautifully executed campaigns. Simple things still exist like the massive restrictions the tech platforms impose, meaning campaigns are limited to the parameters set and of course as the world is getting into some sort of normality new and old challenges always appear. 

At the moment. I see quality versus quantity as one of the main problems, brands are jumping to low-value, high-volume content which is quite often lacking that creative flare, and long-term impact that comes with quality work. I think it’s important to remember that a few quality pieces can really outperform the masses. 

Live judging is returning this year. What are its advantages - what did remote judging miss out on?

You know, remote judging worked. It was great at getting more and more creatives from all over the world involved instantly. It increased that accessibility. It added voice captioning for those hard of hearing or auto-translations for those non-English speakers. There were a lot of benefits to it but it was apparent that judging became more of a job than a joy for those involved. The discussion and debates were good and rigorous but the full judging experience is difficult to replicate virtually. The connections made at D&AD prior to the pandemic launched new agencies and created lifelong friendships and business partnerships. All of that was missing during remote judging. So when we could it made complete sense to return to in-person judging. I think everyone can agree that an in-person conversation outweighs a conversation on a video call.

What matters when it comes to an award-winning submission? What are the most common-biggest mistakes?

It’s paramount to get to the point as soon as possible. Many entries labour on the issue for too long so conveying the idea is really important. Of course, explaining how and why they came to that idea is relevant but this needs to be concise. 

Overblown stats on social media likes and impressions need to be communicated in a simple and effective manner. Keep it simple and quick. It is more important to communicate effects outside of social media, whether that is real-life impact, increase in product sales, brand recognition or even social behaviour changes. It’s also important to back up your claims. 

So overall I think the outlandish statements and unsubstantiated claims can set doubt in the minds of judges which can do some good submissions a disservice in the judging room.

What are the most important aspects of advertising festivals?

It’s important that these festivals give back to the community. Stimulate the industry to keep learning and enable the next generation of talent and the next generations of industry leaders by developing those mid to junior creatives to step up in the coming years. Celebrating excellence is important to inform the learnings and give context to what we do, what’s good and what should be recognised. Recognition and team well-being derived from that recognition is important as well. They provide an important way of connecting with this industry, developing this community and driving creativity forward. 
And finally, I believe advertising festivals have a duty to go above and beyond to serve the needs of the creative community by using all the surpluses they generate in the interest of that community.

What are your top three award-winning campaigns – ever, and why?

It’s so iconic I love it. It’s dark, moody and powerful. It is an amazing example of the power of sound design. It’s still visually compelling with no sound but with the audio, you can start to live and feel the experience.

Budweiser – “Whassup?!”:

Personally, I don’t love this ad but when I think of ads of the last 30 years or so this always jumps in front of my mind. 

I think it’s really amazing when an advert crosses into popular culture. There were very few people who didn’t recognise “Whassup?!” when it was mentioned in the playground or bar at the time and is still understood and referenced today. A true mark of a successful ad.

We are the Superhumans:

This ad is just a masterclass in script writing, editing, direction, casting and ideation. 

A treat to watch and I believe sets the shift change in the way ads were made, edited and directed. A joy to watch.

The Epic Split (Volvo Trucks):

I know you said top three but I had to include the Epic Split. 

It is so simple yet so effective in its message, memorable and a delight to watch with a nice touch of humour. Winning combination in my view.

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25 March, 2023            
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