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The Awards Shows Need to Tear Down Silos, but It Won't Happen

Nike Plus Shows How the Best Ideas Are Discipline- and Media-Agnostic

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The news from Cannes is that the drugs, particularly the Advil, work just fine, but the award silos don't. Members of at least three different Lions juries -- for promo, direct and media -- have bemoaned the difficulty of judging integrated work as it relates to a specific category.
Nike Plus snagged quite a few Lions this year, a feat that required stretching some award categories.
Nike Plus snagged quite a few Lions this year, a feat that required stretching some award categories.

If you're judging a successful and innovative loyalty program with data capture, data analysis, point-of-sale promotion, direct mail, in-store radio, web production, online advertising, outdoor and experiential components, where does that sit? Answer: No one really knows, at least not as it pertains to either the Cannes festival or most of the other award shows.

Today the best work is centered on customer-driven ideas, so why are we still messing around with lots of different categories that are awarded based on discipline or medium? We all know the answer to that one: because there's a whole lot more sponsorship and entry-fee money in it for award-show organizers than there would be in simply giving one award for the best idea of the year.

And I don't blame the organizers. No one imagines they operate these things out of some kind of altruistic service to the industry. This is about cold, hard cash and the legacy of a time (not so long ago) when even the best marketers put the channel before the idea.

Still, legacy is the operative word, because the future for the best marketers will be discipline- and media-agnostic. To paraphrase a point made in Cannes by Yahoo's Wenda Harris Millard: Today all companies are in the same rapidly converging and integrating business. We have media owners operating like agencies and marketers operating like media owners. And more and more agencies are creating brand tools designed to attract and be useful to consumers, while perhaps bringing in revenue, too, making them not so dissimilar to the marketers they serve.

Nike Plus epitomizes the increasing convergence of ideas and utility. It's a user-friendly product, and it's selling like ice cream on the French Riviera because it enhances the experience of running by allowing runners to measure and compare performances over time and with others. But it's also a smart marketing tool to drive sales of Nike running shoes and apparel -- much as Swiffer created the need to buy Swiffer pads and Gillette razors created the need to buy expensive blades.

Oh, yes, and it's made Nike a content player, a media owner operating the biggest running club in the world via a social network. There, people buy music to run to and share their running experiences, whether by challenging and chatting with friends on the site, mapping their runs for others to see and use, or simply trash-talking.

It's difficult to see how that fits into the different award categories. Yet Nike Plus has walked off with lots of awards this year, albeit some of them in categories that had to be mightily stretched to accommodate this phenomenon. As I write this on Thursday in Cannes, the good people of R/GA and Nike have already nabbed a cyber Lion, and I wouldn't bet against them getting a titanium Lion, too (whatever that is).

Of course, given the money involved, no one is expecting Emap, which runs the Cannes festival, to break down the silos and start rewarding just one big idea -- not unless business suicide replaces Six Sigma as the next fad among senior executives. In fact it'd be safe to assume that next year there will be more categories rather than fewer -- PR, anyone?

What Emap could do, however, is kill this business of awarding the euphemistically titled "film" category (which the rest of us call "TV") at the end of the week as if it were the best, biggest and most important thing of all. The final and grandest prix of all should go to the best and biggest creative business idea -- not to an ad that fits in a particular media channel. Go on, Emap. Just do it.
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