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The Coccyx of Advertising Award Shows

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In this new Digital-Viral-Content-Provider Age, is it a promotion? Is it an online idea? Is it an integrated campaign? Or is it just an outdoor billboard? The conversation usually focused on defining media categories more clearly, as it should.

Lost in the discussion was the fact that a number of major shows still exhibit the rather strange long-term habit of also categorizing work into product categories. Way back in 1983, my old friend Luke Sullivan wrote "It seems these days you can win a Clio for the "Best Locally-Produced Strawberry Beverage Spot With Dealer Tag Less Than Five Seconds That Includes The Line "Dads Love 'Em, Too." He was exaggerating, of course. But not much.

A glance at the current Clios print shortlist shows that little has changed in these ensuing 25 years. Product categories such as "Toiletries," "Travel/Tourism," and "Recreational Items" still create a mind-numbing tally of categories within the already numerous media categories.

Clio is not alone. Both Cannes and the ANDY awards also feature product categories such as "Toys, Games and Sports," "Household Cleaning Products," and "Sweet Foods and Snacks" (in what category are sour foods entered?).

And yet, successful and admired shows like the One Show, New York Art Directors Exhibition and The Communications Arts annual get by somehow without these copious and confusing product categories. They all organize around media categories only.

So what could be the motivation for keeping these outdated product designations alive in Cannes, Andys and Clio?

I won't resort to cynicism and suggest that more categories mean more income. I actually don't think that's the case. One possible historical reason I can come up with is a leveling of the playing field for product categories perceived as "difficult." It was once thought that doing great work on a packaged good account was far more difficult than marketing, say, a sexy automobile. But today, great work is coming from virtually all product categories.

Finally, these categories are hopelessly imbalanced and confusing. For example, Burger King scored in a Clios category called "Retail Food," while McDonald's ended up in a one simply called "Foods."

In an ideal modern world, there would probably be no award show categories at all. Judges would simply be exposed to ideas one at a time regardless of media category, product category, size, shape or length. You know, just like consumers actually see them? Winning ads would be chosen based purely on fresh, game-changing ideas. But I realize this would be asking too much.

So, awards show people, while you're tweaking your categories over the coming months to accommodate virals, blogs, mobile apps, user-generated content and more, can you please consider getting rid of those outdated "product" categories once and for all?

Please? Pretty please? Pretty please with "Sweet Foods and Snacks" on it? Thank you.

Bob Barrie is Partner & CD, Barrie D'Rozario Murphy, Minneapolis. He was a judge at the One Show.
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