OPINION: Stuart Elliott in America

The calendar says spring and maybe the thermometer says summer, but

right now the denizens of Madison Avenue are very much all about the

fifth season.



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

anything.)



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

theatre.



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

awards.



But there are some signs that prevailing during awards season may no

longer be the sure-fire ticket to riches during the other four

seasons.



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

Budweiser beer.



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.



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