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Follow the yellow brick road

Leo Burnett Dubai’s work for UAE telco du has won a D&AD yellow Pencil in film direction. Director Ali Ali discusses the win

There is something about that yellow Pencil. Cannes has its Lion, The Clios have their Greek goddess statuette, the New York Festivals have their brilliant towering statue, the ADC has Cubes, and there are those incredibly ugly crystal boxes you get at the MENA Cristals. But when it comes to awards, the yellow Pencil is, well, quite momentous.

It is possibly the most coveted of award statues. And not because of how scarce they are – the jury can give out as little as two or three yellow Pencils in film per year – but also because of the incredibly impressive jury line-up at the show, year after year. Making this, without a doubt, the show of shows. This is the premiere league of advertising. This is where you play with the big boys, and being there that night with my partner in crime, Maged Nassar, did feel like we were amongst the very best in our industry. You rub shoulders with the likes of Mark Tutssel, Amir Kassaei, Tom Kunst, Dougal Wilson, and a long-time favourite of mine, Juan Cabral. All the big production sharks are there as well: MJZ, Smuggler, Blink, Hungry Man. You name it, they’re all there.

Let’s face it, no one does design or advertising like the British. And there’s something inherently British about the D&AD. If Cannes is a blue Citroën Cabrio winding down the roads of the French Riviera, D&AD is a silver Bentley parked in front of a 19th century Victorian estate. There’s just a lot of class and royalty to this award show.

The ceremony itself has got this subtle chic thing going on, but at the same time manages to keep its calm. None of the over-the-top extravaganza or exaggerated agency cheering (more often than not to celebrate mediocre work) we have at our very own Dubai Lynx. At the D&AD, everyone keeps their calm. It is as if they let the work do the talking. The presentation was flawless, no more no less. Every word so eloquent, every piece of music so appropriate, every usher well dressed. Everything around me just kept pounding this one word into my head. Class.

I honestly don’t know if this is the first yellow Pencil for the region, but I know it’s not the only one, for Kalpesh Patankar of Y&R Dubai also picked up a yellow Pencil for the agency’s ‘Little Books of Big Consequences’. A very big tip of the hat to him and the team, for only three yellows were given in design this year.

It is, however, surely a first for film, and it is, more importantly, my first and only yellow Pencil to date. Maged and I got an in-book with Elephant for our Lica gum campaign, and they sent us a piece of the pencil. Called a slice. (Slices have now been replaced with wooden Pencils).

So yes, it feels great, and yes it will probably be the first award to go up on my bookshelf. It feels good just to hold it and admire the craft and simplicity of its design. Surely it had to take a great design to honour the best designers in the world.

‘Two-For-One’ for du picked up a staggering seven pencils that night, one yellow. Which is amazing considering that Volvo Trucks got about five pencils last year, but also considering the quality of the work we were up against. The other two yellow Pencils went to Dougal Wilson for his Lurpak ‘Adventure Awaits’ (I’m yet to see better crafting than that), and Diageo’s ‘Sapeurs’, a directorial stroke of genius. Unlike other shows, at D&AD you never see work up on screen where you think, “Oh, come on, really?”

I’ve been to more than 20 awards shows in my life and I’ve judged at three of them, but never have I seen a jury that is so selective, so harsh, but also self-respecting at the same time. The president of the D&AD said at the start of the show that we are here to award work that is not only great, but that will surely inspire next year’s work. D&AD is here to move the creative industry forward.

And that is exactly what it does. Year after year we look out for D&AD to see the best of the best work. But never did we expect our work – work from our region – to be among them. The yellow Pencil is big, but the biggest thing to have happened, I think, is that young creatives from our part of the world can now begin to believe. Believe not only that they are good enough, but as good. Believe that they are no less than any of the guys sitting at Wieden+Kennedy Portland or Fallon London. Believe that they too have a crack at doing great work that merits global recognition. It now cannot be denied that our work is on par with the rest of the world.

For with belief, comes courage. And when you stop being afraid, you stop mimicking the work done in the West and you go out on this lonely, uncertain quest called freshness. Only then can you crack the big ideas.

The D&AD awards ceremony was held at the shiny Battersea Evolution in Battersea Park. Two well groomed horses greeted you at the entrance, and a very impressive 4×3 metre print of a rocky mountain top, with the very slick D&AD logo inscribed. It seems mountain tops were the graphic theme at this year’s show. I don’t know what the mountains implied, but I like to think that they meant something. That those peaks were there to say ‘This is it, this is the summit. You’ve finally reached the top’.

Ali Ali is a director based in Cairo