I was lucky enough to be a member of the D&AD white pencil jury at this years show. For me, being a proud Brit, this award is right up there with the titanium and Grand Prix lions at Cannes. They are the thickest pencils for the brightest ideas going. None more so than the white pencil.
So what exactly is the white pencil? Well, in the words of D&AD themselves it's:
"A unique award for work that uses the power of creativity to make our world a better place. The client could be a neighborhood brand or a global commercial brand -- as long as the work drives positive social or environmental change."
So far so good: Who can argue with awarding people and things who have managed to do any of the above?
This year's winner was absolutely outstanding. It was a piece of work that truly deserved the limelight and lived up to the white pencil's definition. The idea was just so simple. It's called "I want to save a life" and is made for a manufacturer of adhesive bandages (plasters for English people). When people cut themselves they apply a bandage to stop the bleeding and then afterwards throw it in the garbage, often covered in blood. Well, this idea asks you not to throw it in the garbage and throw it into a pre-paid envelope instead. Then put it in the post to the bone marrow register. The doctors there can then take each blood-coated bandage and use the blood to identify bone marrow matches. It cuts (excuse the pun) out the need for people to take time to go to the doctor to give a sample and therefore has increased the number of people on the bone marrow register. Genius.
The idea came from an agency called Droga5 in New York. And there's where I think we have a problem. Now don't get me wrong, Droga5 is a brilliant agency that does amazing work and they have a founder in David Droga who cares deeply about humanity. Let me be totally clear here -- the winning work was fully worthy of the white pencil. The problem for me is that pretty much all the work on show came from agencies that entered hoping for the chance to win. So the pool of work our jury had to choose from was very limited. The white pencil should be more than another advertising award; it should be a celebration of the world changing for the better, whether or not it was an agency who did the work.
That's why I would like to change the way we select what we are judging. So the white pencil can honor people who didn't even know it existed. Lets face it: Many people change the world to change the world, not to win awards for it. So rather than people finding the white pencil, the white pencil can find them. I would love to see a jury of people from many professional backgrounds who are able to nominate ideas, inventions or people that they have seen and feel deserve to be recognized by the creative world. The jury will then be able to judge these ideas alongside those entered by the advertising community. I feel this will allow us to find even better ideas, broaden the base of people who interact with the D&AD, push agencies to do even better work but most importantly really make the white pencil a celebration of ideas that changed the world.
If we had been able to do so this year I may well have nominated an idea I heard about on a trip to Latvia of all places. I had the pleasure of meeting a German engineer called Fionn Dobbin who had been working on a toilet project in some of India's most deprived and squalid areas. Now we've all heard the phrase "give a man a fish and you'll feed him for a day, give a man a rod and you'll feed him for a lifetime" and that's what Fionn is trying to do -- only with shit. He has worked on a mobile toilet system where each house has a drum, which they use as a toilet. Then when it's full, it's possible to roll the drum toilet to a tank where the waste products are collected and turned into gas. The gas is then sold and the money raised goes into improving the lives of the people of the town. Here's a fun film explaining the idea
The system is in action right now helping to create cleaner and more prosperous towns from nothing but a load of crap. Something this piece of thinking certainly is not. I would have absolutely loved for the creative world to take their collective hats off to Fionn and his team for this brilliant idea.
So what do you think? Have you seen any ideas that deserve the white pencil with inventors who've never heard of it? I am absolutely certain that they exist. Lets hear them!