Radio Industry Tries to Raise Creative Bar

At Mercury Awards, Call to Improve Ads By Witholding an Honor

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The quest to make better radio ads was front and center at this year's 18th-annual Radio Mercury Awards in New York. Jeff Haley, president-CEO of the Radio Advertising Bureau, kicked off Wednesday's ceremony with a call to arms: "We've seen some great creative this year, but we need to see more of it," he said. "Across all radio, great spots are rewarded. It may just be this year we didn't see enough of them."

(From l.) Jeff Haley, president-CEO of the Radio Advertising Bureau; Peter Smyth, president-CEO of Greater Media; Chris Smith of the Richards Group; David Eastman of the Richards Group; Marjorie Eastman; and Rick Boyko, this year's chief judge.
(From l.) Jeff Haley, president-CEO of the Radio Advertising Bureau; Peter Smyth, president-CEO of Greater Media; Chris Smith of the Richards Group; David Eastman of the Richards Group; Marjorie Eastman; and Rick Boyko, this year's chief judge.
This year's awards were the first in five years that did not include an award for the best radio-station-created ad, a controversial decision by this year's judges, an all-star lineup of top creative directors headed by the VCU Brandcenter's Rick Boyko. (They convened with Ad Age for a roundtable discussion on April 30.) The decision was due to a lack of qualified nominees, and sparked a bit of controversy in the Twittersphere.

Mr. Haley said next year's awards will double in cash value to put more emphasis on the quality of the creative work, and will introduce a new category, the People's Choice Award. Three other categories that were removed this year, public service, student-produced and political, will return next year; the student prize will coincide with the VCU Brandcenter's first radio curriculum.

"It was important to show radio the respect it deserves and critique the ads in the same manner we would for the most prestigious awards in all media," Mr. Boyko said. "The judges feel radio still has the potential to be a game changer for a campaign, and it starts with setting standards for excellence."

Most of this year's winners are stalwarts on the radio awards circuit. More weight was given to advertisers who made radio a key part of an integrated marketing campaign. That's why McDonald's was honored with the Mercurys' first Marketer of the Year Award, for its longtime use of radio in its media mix. Natalie Swed Stone, who heads buying for the fast feeder at Omnicom Group's OMD, said, "McDonald's is made of brilliant marketers. There is nobody who has done better than they at staying relevant. There's a reason why an analyst recently said, 'Except for McDonald's, who else is spending more on advertising in this economy?'"

JWT took home another Mercury first, the $10,000 integrated-campaign award, for its work on JetBlue, which helped the airline generate more than 40 million media impressions with its sardonic approach to targeting business travelers and $3 million in free publicity. It also took advantage of radio's flexibility. Winners Matt McDonald and Chris Plehal said they were able to write and produce the winning spots in 24 hours once they got JetBlue's approval for the overall campaign.

Grupo Gallegos won the Spanish-language award for its Comcast ads, and three shops won general agency/production company awards: Y&R, New York, for Office Depot; BBDO, New York, for AT&T; and DDB, Chicago, for the "Championship Ring Designer" installment of its 10-year-old "Real Men of Genius" campaign.

Taking home the $100,000 Grand Prize was the Richards Group for another longtime radio marketer, Motel 6, and its "DVD Commentary" ads. Writer David Eastman said the Dallas-based agency has long been a champion of radio, not just for Motel 6 but for other clients such as Chik-fil-A and Fruit of the Loom, which has helped create "friendly competition" within the agency to see who can make the most creative spots.

In the case of four-time Mercury finalist Motel 6, Mr. Eastman said, "For as long-running a campaign as this one's been, we looked at everything on the reel and see how we can improve upon it."

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