The calendar says spring and maybe the thermometer says summer, but
right now the denizens of Madison Avenue are very much all about the
Winter, spring, summer, fall and ... what? Awards, of course.
From the International Andy Awards in New York, in April, to the
International Advertising Festival in Cannes, in June, the awards season
dominates virtually every discussion whenever two or more agency people
gather (it's likely also the focus of the folks who talk to themselves,
no doubt driven to distraction by anxiety over whether they've won
The chatter of Andys and Effies and Pencils and Clios is amplified by
the increasing dish devoted to awards bestowed by media organisations
such as the Magazine Publishers of America, which presents the Kellys;
the radio industry, the Radio Mercury Awards; and the Outdoor
Advertising Association of America, the Obies - not to be confused with
honours with an identical name given out for achievement in Off Broadway
The media awards are becoming particularly prized because the hardware
is often accompanied by cash, for instance dollars 100,000 for the Kelly
Award for general excellence. The ad industry is emulating that, as the
American Association of Advertising Agencies adds cash prizes to the
annual O'Toole Awards for creative excellence.
The question that always comes up during awards season, apart from 'Do I
need to get a new tuxedo or can I still fit into last year's?' is just
what kind of impact they have on the business operations and creative
reputations of the agencies that win - or lose.
There is no doubt that local and regional agencies such as Cliff Freeman
& Partners; Fallon McElligott; Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein; and Wieden
& Kennedy rode their successes at the awards shows to national fame and
fortune. They could not have become the powerhouse hotshops they are
today without having had to build all those shelves to display all those
But there are some signs that prevailing during awards season may no
longer be the sure-fire ticket to riches during the other four
For one thing, there are more 'Gotchas!' as agencies are forced to
return awards they won for campaigns that, oops, never actually ran.
Then too there is the trend toward presenting awards for ads that are
entertaining, usually humourous, a development amply demonstrated so far
during this awards season by the rush to press prizes on the creatives
at the Chicago office of DDB Worldwide for the 'whassup?' work for
If ads are funny in order to make jaded consumers laugh, maybe they'll
pay attention even for a moment to a brand pitch. Those same ads are
also probably going to make jaded ad pros who judge awards competitions
laugh, too. Jolly judges are perhaps judges in a mood to present an
award to the ad that made them jolly rather than to the one that made
them think or cry or nod their heads in recognition of a moment of
shared human experience.
And where's the award-winning achievement in that? It was the actor
Edmund Gwenn, on his deathbed, who supposedly said: 'Tragedy is easy;
comedy is hard.'Maybe for the next awards season, Madison Avenue ought
to consider whether it's a tragedy if making advertising comedy is easy.