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Back in 1994, those who run the Magazine Publishers of America's Kelly Awards had had enough of complaints about their annual competition to honor the best in magazine advertising.

The Kellys, it was said, were being dominated by a few large-budget, long-running campaigns from a short list of agencies. Nike campaigns from Wieden & Kennedy had won the $100,000 top prize for 1989, '91 and '92; Absolut vodka ads from TBWA had won for '88 and '90.

So MPA changed the rules. No longer could the same campaign repeat as a Kelly Award winner; even with a new campaign, a Kelly-winning advertiser would have to sit out a year before its ads could win again. Judges also were encouraged to seek out finalists from smaller shops, to look for "edgier" ads for smaller brands to get away from "classic" print ads and reward venturesome work.

Since then, Kelly Award-winning campaigns have featured different advertisers (Schwinn, Norwegian Cruise Line and Porsche Cars) and the finalists have included new agency names (the Bomb Factory, Citron Haligman Bedecarre, Lambesis). But the "sameness" problem is stubborn, it seems.

The last two winners were from the same agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The 25-strong finalist lists in 1995, '96 and this year were stocked with many of the same agencies, brands and, yes, campaigns as previous years. Leo Burnett USA for its Dewar's scotch campaign, for example, has been a finalist each of the last three years. So have Wieden & Kennedy for Nike and Grace & Rothschild for Land Rover. Five agencies-Wieden, Goodby, BBDO West, Carmichael Lynch and Fallon McElligott-account for 13 of this year's 25 finalist campaigns. As in past years, conspicuous by their absence are larger, New York-based agencies, many of which unfortunately still seem to value their TV reels significantly more than their print portfolios.

There are, again, some smaller advertisers/smaller shops represented, for edgier, less-classic print advertising: Taylor guitars from Vitro Robertson, San Diego, as an example. But, for some reason, it seems the "edge" in the Kelly Awards lies elsewhere, with those repeating year after year after year.

Television's rites of spring, the May sweeps and its orgy of contests, promotions and programming stunts, are finally behind us. And now there's hope that local TV stations may be willing to end the sweeps carnivals altogether to give their advertisers something better.

The Television Bureau of Advertising, which speaks for most local TV stations, is forming a committee to work with Nielsen Media Research to bring continuous audience measurement to local TV. That's a big step forward, and one that TV ad buyers should praise even if there are many contentious issues to resolve before a new local audience measurement system can be put in place.

TVB Chairman Andrew Fisher cites "tremendous momentum to move on this issue." We hope Mr. Fisher, a senior executive of Cox Broadcasting and chairman of the ABC affiliate board, is correct.

With every passing sweeps month, more and more TV stations feel compelled to embrace the type of stunts that make a mockery of the present sweeps system. There's no easy way to stop it from growing worse; the are beyond that sort of repair. It's time to get something better and Chairman Fisher should lead the way.

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