Award winners' edge: That's entertainment

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The subject today is the validity of advertising awards, so let us of course begin by discussing the National Basketball Association.

All over black America, young men dream of fame and riches, and devote their energies to roundball, as opposed to the less glittering but vastly higher-percentage path to life success: education. A handful of these hoops dreamers get college scholarships, a smaller handful earn degrees and an infinitesimal fraction of the basketball-playing universe makes it to the NBA and the tens of millions of dollars manifestly unthinkable to the kids who concentrated on algebra instead of the reverse layup.

So, is the NBA, as a professional goal, good for black America or bad?

Don't answer now, but, as we evaluate the most gilded ads of the past year, hold the thought.

Meantime, let's go to the videotape. The Top 10 trophy-winning advertisers were Nike, Sony PS2, Adidas, Anheuser-Busch, Volkswagen, Honda, Mini Cooper, American Legacy Foundation, Hewlett-Packard and MTV. As the purpose of this exercise is to see how these winners fare according to AdReview's criteria (which are more concerned with selling power than entertainment, and with novelty almost not at all), logic would dictate that we simply rate them with our usual zero to four stars.

Alas, the Top 10 list reflects advertisers, not individual ads. In the case of VW, for instance, the trophies were gathered with a dozen executions by agencies in at least four countries. So permit us to be a little bit specific and a little bit vague.

a great list ... generally

Generally speaking, it's a great list. The Nike work-half of which again allows us to marvel at the virtuosity and heart of its contracted athletes, and half of which breathtakingly captures the spirit of play-could well be the greatest pool of work by any advertiser in any category in any given year. Nike owns the emotion and appeal and grit and beauty of sport largely because Wieden & Kennedy so thoroughly understands and communicates it.

Sony PS2's "Mountain" from Omnicom Group's TBWA, London, was an extraordinary production utterly congruent with its online-gaming brand benefit: the chance to claw your way to the top, or be buried by the teeming, gaming masses. The Hewlett-Packard campaign from Omnicom's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, combines powerful storytelling and breathtaking cinematography to explore the technological possibilities of an HP partnership. Volkswagen, inconsistent in the U.S., continues to be brilliant in Holland, France and especially the U.K. The print ad from Omnicom's DDB Worldwide, London, of cops in a shoot-out massing behind a Polo is a witty articulation of the subcompact's big-car feel.

As for Honda's "Cog," from Wieden & Kennedy, London, it's a masterpiece not only because you can't take your eyes off of it, but because it vividly states the brand premise: The car simply works.

The only clinkers on the list, we believe, are Adidas, from Omnicom's TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., and the American Legacy Foundation's "Truth" work, created by Havas' Arnold Worldwide, Boston, and MDC-backed Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami. The anti-smoking stuff is surely defensible, trying to leverage adolescent rebelliousness by demonizing Big Tobacco, but it's also shrill and self-congratulatory. Further, that very same adolescent psychology at some point simply restores tobacco's familiar role of anti-hero. This, we believe, is too great a risk.

`nothing' is nothing

The Adidas work also, at first blush, is quite impressive. The compositing of old Muhammad Ali footage with contemporary sidekicks-including his own boxing daughter-is definitely a "how-day-do-dat?" But the slogan, "Impossible is nothing," is nothing, and the selling message is absent.

But let's never mind the details. Let's examine instead the (ostensible) larger question behind this evaluation: Are the award winners meretricious?

Answer: Of course they are.

Unfortunately, that's not the right question.

Each year, all over the world, tens of thousands of advertising creatives test the very limits of their imaginations (and client budgets) to create the kind of transcendently affecting and memorable advertising that fetches trophies at Cannes, One Show, D&AD, London International, Addy, Clio, San Sebastian, FIAP and so on.

gold road to success

The tens of thousands of ads are subsequently entered, and, naturally, some of them win. Furthermore, as we've seen here, and as awards show maven Donald Gunn has fairly convincingly documented, the gold-winning best usually succeeds in the marketplace and tends to enjoy lasting acclaim.


The problem is that the winners also tend to be extremely entertaining, extremely original in approach and extremely complex in production-the consequence being that anonymous creatives all over the world become obsessed with entertainment, originality and production, vs. their obvious but tragically neglected charter of selling things to folks.

The consequence of that being that the overwhelming majority of them-like (Ah, here we are!) the vast majority of playground hoops dreamers-are doomed to miserable failure. So, yeah, nice chart. Now, if you care anything about the business of advertising, remove it from this magazine and set it on fire.

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