Baseline: The art of politics in advertising awards

Art is where you find it, which can be tricky, because art is pretty light on its feet.But, politics, the hard business of deciding who gets what when, steps right up to the trough, so it should come as no surprise...

Art is where you find it, which can be tricky, because art is pretty light on its feet.

But, politics, the hard business of deciding who gets what when, steps right up to the trough, so it should come as no surprise that Advertising Awards Shows are intensely political events.

This was driven home to me by a master politician, Tony Houghton, late one night in the early Eighties in a Royal York Hotel suite in Toronto.

The Marketing Awards Jury, of which both Tony and I were members, was deadlocked over who’d get the Gold for radio that year.

My Granada Popatubaphobia spot, and a commercial for Campbell’s Soup by Tony’s agency, Ogilvy & Mather, each had six votes.

It was close to midnight, and, after much judging and sparring and eating and drinking, things had taken on a mildly hallucinatory tone when Tony rose to his feet and began pondering aloud The Power of Good a Gold Marketing Award Would Shower Upon Generations Yet Unborn if it was awarded to Campbell’s!

His thesis was that, corporately speaking, Granada was obviously a bunch of breezy, entrepreneurial whackos to whom wit and creativity were natural elements of their simple, child-like psyches, so a Gold Award wasn’t really going to fizz on them.

But, the great grey edifice that was Campbell was so predictably impacted and strangled and knotted and pompous and rich beyond belief that receipt of a Gold Marketing Award would be an absolute epiphany, ushering in a glittering age of rebirth and celebration of the human spirit.

A weeping jury recast their votes, one bastard switched his support to Campbell, and I wound up with the Silver.

After that, I began to see awards shows, generally, as Festivals of Loathing, where one dined expensively and badly in the company of travellers in printing press rollers, and made barfing noises when winners were announced from a podium a quarter of a mile away.

Yet, still, I confess an enduring affection for the Billi Awards, being the billboard folks’ annual frolic, mounted for over 15 years by Mediacom, and held again Sept. 29 under the auspices of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Canada.

It always seems the least sweaty and venal, the most cheery and humane awards event, and it’s been instrumental in helping position practically the only advertising media with zero editorial content as a kind of unique and mystical zen art form.

The thing is also perennially hosted by Doug Linton of Ambrose Carr etcetera, which is a hoot. Doug always makes me think of what Charlie Chaplin said to Alan King at their first meeting: You’re very angry, but you’re very funny!

I don’t know what happened at the judging, but what happened on the podium was that the Oh Hungry? horizontal board for Oh Henry! won Gold, which is Justice.

There followed two head-scratchers for me, the first a Mitchum board ‘now entering the jungle. got your stick?, and then a McDonald’s board that says, ‘Mon. Tues. Weds. Thurs.’ and then shows a box of fries. It can’t mean they only serve fries on Friday, so it’s gotta mean that every day is fry-day. But, that’s not what it…oh, never mind!

But, then, I’m so damn literal. But, we wondered why it beat the Carnation Evaporated Milk one that said, ‘Banana (can of Carnation) Pie.’

The fact that it also beat the cut-out pterodactyl on the musuem’s ‘Where to go for wings’ board could be the start of an Anyone-But-Geoffrey B. Roche movement, but, as I say, I wasn’t at the judging.

The vertical and campaign categories were stormed by Lever’s Vim stuff, the best of which was ‘Hog Wash,’ showing the pack and a very cool illustration of a Harley. Someone’s made good ads a habit at Lever.

A campaign for Ontario’s Royal Winter Fair also did well here. ‘Over ninety flights daily’ (jumping horse), and, ‘Witness the original ride program’ (Musical Ride Mounties) showed puns still buy you places on the Podia.

The Ontario Milk Marketing campaign, ‘Spend your energy,’ which paints up naked athletes to look like dairy cows, received recognition in several categories, but, unless you can imagine Bart Simpson yelling Go like a cow, man! you’ve gotta wonder.

Barry Base is president and creative director of Barry Base & Partners, Toronto.