The Rap Race

D&AD is fast approaching, so it’s well worth looking at what makes a winning entry.

Only 18 entries have ever won the highly coveted, chubby-pencil-shaped award and, having gone through all of them again over the weekend, here are some thoughts.

The idea is not king

To win a black pencil, your idea doesn’t have to totally melt faces on its own to win. Many of the ideas that have won have been remarkably simple. For example:

  • The Black List: a list of black authors
  • Make Waves With Waves: swimming equipment for women with afro hair
  • BBC Sounds Narration: narrating TV shows for the visually impaired

This does not mean that some ideas that have won are not less simple – Inside Stories or Her Snkrs, for example – but you don’t necessarily have to blow away the D&AD jury with the unexpectedness and obvious brilliance of your idea as written on a Rizla (as Marc likes to advise us to do).

And that’s probably because your idea is not written on the back of a Rizla. You have two whole minutes to impress – and often, this is where the winners win.


For the last few years, craft has been key. Last year’s winner Clout was wonderfully crafty; possibly even beating the standards set by The Black List the year before. 

However, while these two have had considerable hours put into their finished version, others seem to have won with fewer. Certainly, some Yellow Pencil winners have clearly spent longer crafting. (Although I would caveat that by saying that it may have taken multiple iterations to get to the finished version. No doubt at least some of the winners had to knock out a few average executions before creating something great). 

But what is it about the craft of D&AD winners if not the hours spent?

… Is Vision king?

To me, the thing the Black Pencil winners all seem to have in common is some sort of creative vision. They are someone creating a piece of work that is so tangible, that you can completely understand how that idea will live in the world and how it will feel to other people.

The Black List might be a list of black authors, but it’s the point of view that the idea is coming from – and the way that viewpoint is expressed so clearly and so compellingly through the work – that makes it so fricken good. The idea isn’t really a list of authors, it’s ‘the books they don’t want you to read’ (the campaign tagline). 

In the same way, Clout, at its core, is a simple idea about making patches from luxury fabric. However, the amount of personality given to the idea by the execution turns it into a compelling vision of how this idea will live in the real world – and change it. It shows the audience why it’s an idea worth caring about. 

However, having said all that, I don’t actually believe a word of it, because there is only one sure-fire way to win a chubby little lead-filled Black pencil and that is…

Rapping your entry. 

There’s no getting away from it – the last three SCA Black Pencil winners have been raps. Nothing says #authentic like a rap and the D&AD jury clearly think so too. 

Can’t wait to hear everyone’s bars at the WIP on Tuesday. 


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