Base line – Why I don’t take ad awards seriously

My Personal Best in the Award Show Rackets occurred on the 17th of March 1980.

My Personal Best in the Award Show Rackets occurred on the 17th of March 1980.

The morning after the Marketing Awards ceremonies had drawn 1,200 people to our industry’s annual festival of fear, jealousy and loathing, radio station CHFI announced that this year, the awards had been dominated by four ad agencies: McCann, Ogilvy, MacLaren and Base Hamilton.

As I was also on the Marketing Awards jury that year, I had a premonition this would happen. So I had bought three tables for the event, and rented three suites in the Harbour Castle Hotel adjacent. I had invited all my winning clients, my partners, half the staff, and stocked a private bar with enough booze to keep The Rolling Stones and Margaret Trudeau’s crowd giddy until five in the morning.

Further to mark A Celebration of My Work, anybody with shares in the agency had repaired to Lou Myles a week or two earlier, after a wettish lunch, and been outfitted with custom-tailored tuxes at company expense.

So it was damn discouraging, having blown the year’s profit (or, more likely, exaggerated the year’s loss) to the tune of some 10 or 20 grand, when we proceeded to pick up zero new business in the next nine months as a result.

In fact, we promptly lost many clients whose campaigns had triumphed that night.

That’s why I haven’t taken Advertising Awards seriously since. The last awards show I actually attended was won by an agency for a TV spot in which a dog bit a man in the crotch. (Of course, it was for a beer. Which beer? You don’t remember?)

But I can assure you that the weirdness you behold at Advertising Awards ceremonies is nuthin’ compared to the weirdness that takes place at Advertising Awards judging marathons. An Awards jury is an arbitrary mix of clients, creatives, and a couple of off-shore ringers flown in. Lock ‘em together for 40 hours over three days, and watch the fun!

The creatives’ natural inferiority impulses are ratcheted up into a state of raging hysteria by the presence of their peers. Agency principals lust after the approbation of the client-side judges, who are freaked by being locked in a room with The Inmates. The imported poo-bahs are disoriented by jet lag, the grovelling and the prospect of babes and hunks to romp and rut before jetting home.

By 10 that night, anything salacious, gross-out, bizarre, funny, unusually obscure and/or subversive of conventional persuasion techniques is deemed award-worthy.

I was on a jury presented with the early Loblaws President’s Choice campaign. A couple of ad wizards groaned with contempt. Selling! It was off the table in 10 seconds.

I was on a jury that narrowly awarded my small-client radio campaign a Gold. The runner-up was a campaign for a monolithic soup company. The CD of the soup company’s ad agency was also on the jury. He implored us to reverse the order of the prizes, because the gigantic soup company needed the encouragement. I lost my Gold.

Advertising is information presented in a way that invites decisions. That’s like selling stuff. Take a stroll through an Awards Ceremony crowd and ask the creatives how many consider themselves salespeople.

Barry Base is president and CD of Barry Base & Partners, Toronto. He makes ad campaigns. Barry clawed his way up through four major ad agencies and founded his own firm when still a small child. See highlights of his career to date on an egomaniacal Web site at